Driver's license renewal hurts time and again

Football games last about three hours. So do baseball games. The movie "Titanic"? Also nearly three hours.

Oh, yes, and here's another activity that can take three hours: renewing your driver's license.

Many of you have expressed frustration -- OK, outrage -- about how long it takes to accomplish something as simple as registering your vehicle or renewing your license. Last week was my turn to experience the pain, and all I can say is this: Ouchy.

The line snaked out the door at the East Sahara Avenue division. The ordeal started about 10 a.m. Thursday. I had tried different times of the day on three occasions but couldn't bring myself to wither away half a day. It made me wonder: Do working folks have to take vacation time to go to the DMV?

"I hate Nevada," a woman shouted as she burst through the doors, apparently having waited in line only to learn she didn't have all the proper paperwork.

Then there was the guy who bounced down the steps waiving his hands in the air like he just landed a spot on "American Idol." Apparently he was that thrilled to be out of there. Really? Is it that bad?

We shuffled about 10 yards in 10 minutes, which is only a good sign if you are the Detroit Lions offense.

"This is criminal," an elderly sun-baked woman behind me muttered. "My husband keeps saying, 'Let's just go tomorrow. Let's just go tomorrow.' Well, then the tags will be expired, which is a new set of problems. I don't need a whole new set of problems at this place."

No, this place has enough problems of its own.

During the last legislative session, DMV officials were shot down in their effort to hire 93 technicians to fill those empty counters we witness during each visit. Budget cuts ultimately affect customer service, and we are all seeing that firsthand.

It becomes even more troubling when you pile on furlough days, vacation time, sick leave and the fact that, as DMV spokesman Tom Jacobs puts it, the division is unique in that it is the only state agency that deals with virtually every adult yet operates under a budget cap.

Jacobs explained that in August the average wait was 62 minutes, but, honestly, he doesn't really believe that himself. So, let's all stop chuckling now and get on with it.

It took an hour to reach the information desk, at which point the only information I was interested in was how much longer I was going to be there. Well, this is just the beginning. Off to be photographed. Another line, perhaps 60 motorists. Apparently snapping a picture is also time-consuming because it took about 45 minutes to reach the camera.

Now it's on to the line to get a number to wait in another line. Ten minutes pass and the clerk pulls No. 810; 730 had just been called. Seeing that 14 of the 33 windows were closed, it was obvious this wouldn't be a swift trip. It was an hour and a half before they reached the 800s.

This is the tale most tell after a visit to the motor vehicles division. It's brutal. You know it, I know it and Jacobs knows it.

"We don't operate like a private industry where when the customer base increases, you can hire extra people," he said. "We haven't grown as the state has grown."

Fine. How about some hints in this little guessing game we all play? Everyone is familiar with it: Which office will be least busy? What day is the best? How about a time?

First, each office is pretty much equally busy.

The division on West Flamingo Road accommodates slightly more traffic; during a 20-day period last month, 36,293 customers walked through the doors. The Sahara office counted 32,184 motorists, which matches the valley's two other departments.

Typically, the best time to go is in the middle of the week in the afternoon, although the line Thursday was shortened by a third just before noon. Jacobs acknowledged it is all hit or miss. The worst times to go are the day after and the day before a holiday and on Mondays and Fridays.

It seems there must be a way to improve efficiency. Jacobs said years back the DMV offered different lines for license renewals and registration, but that did little to improve wait times.

How about a few more cameras? That can't be too costly. Jacobs said that we will soon see that improvement.

"We are constantly looking at ways to improve traffic flow. A study is going on right now," Jacobs said, adding that the best way to navigate the process is by renewing your registration and license online. You only need to renew your license in the office every 10 years.

It is hard to imagine our state legislators having to stand in these lines; otherwise they would have funded the much-needed positions. Jacobs insists that our lawmakers receive no special treatment. He pointed out that the late Kenny Guinn loved to stand in line and talk to people.

That is not surprising given his character. Hopefully his conversations were more lively than the two guys who were in line so long the only thing left to talk about was the Star burger deal Carl's Jr. is offering.

Celebrities are treated differently because they would otherwise cause a ruckus in the lobby. Celine Dion, for example, was taken behind the counter to get her paperwork processed.

After experiencing this and learning more about the department, I have one sound piece of advice to those who must pay the DMV a visit: Go take singing lessons.

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call Adrienne Packer at 702-387-2904, or send an e-mail to roadwarrior@reviewjournal .com. Please include your phone number.