The Department of Revenue's Motor Vehicle Office was jam-packed, again, early on July 13. Despite its posted 93-person maximum capacity, more than 110 customers filled the room.
Others, defiant of the heat, had taken their numbers back to their parked cars. Logan Sitar, Dumitru Marandici and two friends chose a middle route: sitting down outside the waiting room, on the DMV floor.
Sitar wanted to test for his commercial driver's license. Marandici, there for the sixth time in two months, sought a state ID. They had been waiting for 3½ hours, and still had about 60 people ahead of them.
"It's terrible," said Sitar.
And it's common at 2447 N. Union Blvd. Multiple visits to the facility over the past two months suggest the Department of Revenue is setting new lows in a checkered history of customer service.
Only one man is allowed to talk on the matter, and he initially chalks the problems up to only one thing: the season. E-mailing in response to multiple requests for comment, public information officer Mark Couch puts it this way: "Summer is the peak time for driver's license applications and renewals."
However, Couch provides data to contradict his assertion.
In June, the Union Boulevard location gave 457 tests, fewer than the 515 in March and 513 in May, and even below the average of 486.6 for the five months prior to June. Similarly, the number of documents issued in June — 5,545 — came in below the five-month average of 5,623. Numbers aside, there's a lot more at work here than just customer demand.
While the state runs the Union Boulevard office, El Paso County runs offices on Garden of the Gods Road; Cascade Avenue; farther north on Union Boulevard; and off Powers Boulevard, at 5650 Industrial Place. But these offices only offer license renewals, not driving tests or new licenses.
And in that sole function, they have competition. Many people are eligible to renew their licenses online, and more and more are doing so. In the fiscal year running from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012, about 162,000 driver's licenses and IDs were renewed online; that's up from 110,860 in 2010-11, and only 21,597 in 2009-10, according to the department's annual reports.
So perhaps it should be no surprise that at 10:38 a.m., Thursday, July 19, none of those county offices were too busy. According to the county website — which offers a convenient option where you can track wait times at all four county offices — wait times ranged from two minutes to 16 minutes. At 3:35 p.m. on Monday, July 23, times ranged from 11 minutes to 33 minutes.
There is a document intended to better spread the workload, but it's collecting dust.
A 2009 Memorandum of Understanding between El Paso County and the DOR allows the county to offer services such as administering driving tests and issuing new licenses. But the decision is left entirely to the county, and the county has been reluctant.
El Paso County's funding of motor vehicle operations comes solely from local taxes and fees — no money comes from the state. And within a motor vehicle budget of $3.8 million, only about $200,000 goes to driver's license operations, according to Tony Anderson, the motor vehicle department manager at the county Clerk and Recorder's Office.
So they have to use that money wisely. Anderson explains it costs most people $20.40 for a driver's license, whether new or renewed, and the county retains $8 in each transaction. But when issuing a new license, the county has to pay not only the desk clerk, but someone to administer the driving test.
"More labor is required to do driving tests," Anderson says. "The county doesn't want to lose money."
Where state offices are, and how big they are, Couch explains, depends on many factors, like access to county services, the distance between offices and the number of issued licenses. Operating its single office in the Springs, he says, costs the state approximately $800,000. Couch points out that the Legislature has not been keen to spend more money on DMV locations.
"The department does not have the authority to increase the number of offices without funding," he says.
So for now, there's no relief in sight for someone like Theodoran Quest, who, after putting in five hours of fruitless waiting one day, was four-and-a-half hours into his second day of trying to test for his license.
Or, worse, there's what Bryce Kear's been dealing with. As Couch explains, those who want to take a commercial driver's license test on a DMV computer have to go through the regular line: "The office must establish an intake transaction," he says, "that checks or creates a customer record and sets up the test on the computer."
The first day Kear tried, he arrived at 7:30 in the morning and got into the line that snaked around the building.
"Until 3 o'clock, there was nobody on the testing machines, and my number hadn't been called yet," recalls Kear. "The computers [DOR statewide, according to the staff] went down for long, so I decided to go back home."
The next day, he entered the building by 10 a.m. and got the number B 540. By 11 a.m., the staff was calling number B 486. There was still nobody on the testing machines.