SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Hours-long wait times at California Department of Motor Vehicles offices in recent months have been unacceptable, the agency's leader told lawmakers at a Tuesday hearing in response to public outcry over the delays.
DMV Director Jean Shiomoto told lawmakers wait times spiked several months ago as Californians update their licenses to meet new federal security standards known as Real ID.
The agency underestimated how long it would take to explain the new requirements to customers and ensure they have necessary documents, Shiomoto said.
Shiomoto asked lawmakers Tuesday for additional money to hire more employees, possibly as much as $26 million on top of the millions in additional funding the agency has already been granted.
When Assemblyman Phil Ting visited a San Francisco DMV office in his district last month, he said the line snaking around the block looked more like a queue for rock concert tickets than for people trying to renew their licenses.
"I was shocked," the Democrat told The Associated Press. "What we've been hearing are horrific wait times of six or seven hours. That's unacceptable."
Lawmakers have given the department millions of dollars in additional funding to accommodate higher demand as Californians update their licenses to comply with the federally mandated security upgrades.
The federal law was enacted in 2005 in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and requires new ID cards to carry special markings.
After Oct. 1, 2020, airport security checkpoints won't accept non-compliant cards. Californians must apply for new cards in person at DMV offices.
The department has already hired hundreds of additional employees to handle increased demand. The agency is also encouraging people to complete some paperwork before arriving in person and is piloting text message alerts for waiting customers.
Assemblyman Phillip Chen is requesting an audit of the department and how it is handling the Real ID changes. The top complaint he's heard from his constituents recently is about the long wait times at DMV offices.
"We want to make sure we're not putting money into a broken system," the Diamond Bar Republican said.
The Joint Legislative Audit Committee will weigh Chen's audit request Wednesday.
To ease the long wait times, the DMV is staffing 60 offices on Saturdays and extending morning hours at 14 offices.
"We want to do better and we will do better," Shiomoto said. "Our customers deserve it."