When Bakersfield resident Jennifer Gandara, 44, left for the Department of Motor Vehicles on Wednesday morning to release the title of her vehicle after an accident, she expected the worst.
“I told my family I’ll be back in a few hours,” she said.
She had heard that lines for the DMV had forced some people to wait up to seven hours at certain locations around the state.
But when she arrived at the southwest office of the DMV, off White Lane, she waited no more than five minutes before being seen by a clerk.
“I was like, ‘oh, thank God,’” she said. “It was good here. (The workers) were nice and polite.”
But Gandara’s experience at the DMV may prove to be an exception. News reports from around the state have described hourslong wait times at certain high-density office locations.
Those who wish to book an appointment at one of the two Bakersfield offices will have to wait a month before a spot opens up.
Several respondents to a question on The Californian’s Facebook page said that even after they made an appointment, they waited up to four hours before being seen by a clerk.
But the problems may be abating. A DMV representative said wait times for those without appointments were approximately an hour at either Bakersfield office, and those with appointments needed to wait 15 minutes.
The DMV has said long wait times were caused a few months ago when a glut of Californians sought to update their licenses to conform to new security requirements known as Real ID.
Congress passed Real ID in 2005 as a response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a way to increase security for state driver's licenses and ID cards.
After 2020, airports will no longer accept noncompliant licenses as a form of identification, meaning those who wish to travel by air within the United States without a passport or other compliant ID will need to update their licenses.
Some state legislators have taken notice of long times California residents are being forced to wait in line at the DMV.
The office of state Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, has received dozens of calls in the past few weeks about the long wait times, said the senator’s communications director, Tom Collins.
The number represents a “significant uptick” from the norm, he said. And the calls seem to be increasing.
Fuller participated in a Joint Legislative Audit Committee hearing Tuesday to determine if the DMV should be audited for its wait times.
Republicans on the committee favored the audit, but three Senate Democrats did not vote on the issue after two hours of debate, essentially killing the audit request.
“The DMV is in a systemic crisis that will easily move into a systemic crash of vital services if we do not get to the root of this problem,” Fuller said in a statement to The Californian. “Unfortunately, due to a lack of sufficient support from Senate Democrats, the DMV will not be audited. This overdue audit of the DMV should have been a no-brainer and would have provided valuable information to help the DMV more efficiently serve Californians.”
Assemblyman Rudy Salas, R-Bakersfield, said in a statement to The Californian he also supported an audit of the DMV.
The DMV has attempted to counter the problem as wait times have skyrocketed.
After the state Department of Finance expedited $16.6 million in funds to the DMV to hire 230 employees at field offices across the state, the DMV initiated some changes it hopes will cut down on the wait times.
Saturday office hours have been added to 60 field offices, including the Bakersfield office on F Street.
That office will now be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Saturday.
The southwest field office in Bakersfield off White Lane will also have expanded hours. It will open at 7 a.m. every weekday, excluding Wednesday, when it will open at 8 a.m.
“I appreciate the swift action of the Legislature to help the Department tackle these long waits with a new wave of employees,” DMV Director Jean Shiomoto said in a statement Wednesday. “Today’s wait times are unacceptable and we are continuing to take action to improve service for all Californians.”
In Bakersfield, some DMV customers were somewhat feeling the strain.
“You just have to have the mindset that you’re going to be here a while,” said Bobbie Wilcox, 84, who went to the F Street DMV on Wednesday to update her driver's license.
She said she had been waiting for an hour after making an appointment a month ago. She saw a few people “kibitzing” about the long wait times in the office, but despite the wait, she said her overall experience was not bad.
“I feel really sorry for anybody who has to work there,” she said.
Both employees of the DMV and the general public may have to put up with long wait times for a little bit longer. One legislator involved in the DMV hearings said the changes put forward by the DMV would not start to take effect until mid-September.
That’s just one more wait California drivers will have to put up with to comply with state law.