Gotta hand it to Assemblyman Jim Patterson. During these divisive times, it's not easy for a politician to grab hold of an issue that every Californian over the age of 16 can agree on.
Such as our universal hatred of standing in line at the DMV.
"There is an arrogance in these bureaucracies that needs to be challenged," said Patterson, who represents the northern half of Fresno, Clovis, eastern Fresno County and a slice of Tulare County in the California State Assembly.
Patterson sounds up for the fight.
Long lines at the California Department of Motor Vehicles are nothing new, certainly. They're an accepted fact of life. According to Patterson, however, the situation is worse than ever. Four- and five-hour wait times have become routine for anyone brave (or foolish) enough to show up without an appointment. And even those with appointments are sometimes compelled to wait hours.
None of this would be so galling to Patterson if it were not for the fact that the DMV brass requested, and received, an additional $23 million this year for the stated purpose of extending hours and combating wait times.
With the introduction of the Real ID, the DMV knew this was coming. Starting Oct. 1, 2020, everyone will need a Real ID-compliant driver license or identification card to board an airplane or to enter military bases and most federal buildings.
With the extra $23 million, the DMV pledged to open 60 field offices from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and also to extend Monday to Friday hours until 7 p.m. In budget request documents it even used the word "assume." As in, "assume" this will take place.
Well, the joke's on us. The DMV got its extra $23 million, and those field offices still close at 5 p.m. on weekdays. While Saturday service has been introduced at 40 of them – and hooray for that – it's only twice a month and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
That wasn't the deal.
"This is a fundamental issue of promises made and promises not kept," Patterson said. "This is taxpayer money given for a specific purpose at the request of the DMV to try and fix a problem, and the problem is not fixed at all. In fact it's terrible."
This is not the first time Patterson has grappled with the DMV. Last year, the former Fresno mayor took the mat on behalf of local truck and bus drivers forced to wait three or four months before they could make appointments to take their tests. In some cases, the delays cost them their jobs.
Patterson's efforts helped produce results. The wait times for commercial driver's tests is down to two or three weeks. Now he's back at it on behalf of everyone forced to wait hours in line to renew a license or transfer title on a car.
"I've essentially been a bit of a rabble-rouser," he said with a hint of a smile.
Last week, Patterson met with DMV director Jean Shiomoto and members of her staff to discuss the longer-than-ever wait times. Fix the problem, he warned them, or brace for a "growing bipartisan push for an audit" this August.
"We had a rather serious conversation," Patterson said. "They do not like the fact that we are making their shortcomings very clear to the general public. They know they've got a very short window to get this stuff fixed."
Following repeated requests for comment, DMV spokesperson Jessica Gonzalez emailed an official response at 5:40 p.m. Tuesday. Which was too late to make my print deadline.
The statement read, in part: "The DMV was experiencing longer wait times at various field offices due to the implementation of the federal REAL ID requirement. We also rolled out a new queuing system and an electronic driver license and ID card application. We apologize for the increased wait times and took action to improve and speed up our services."
Besides reducing wait times, Patterson wants to see the DMV expand its online services so that more transactions can be done with the click of a mouse instead of a trip to the office.
For example, when someone purchases a car from a private party, state law requires the transfer of ownership to occur within 10 days. That's typically not enough time to make an appointment, so you're forced to go to the DMV without one.
In an age when massive financial transactions are performed electronically, there's no reason anyone should be made to wait in line for anything short of an actual in-person driver test.
"Everybody else does it in the world called the private sector," Patterson said. "Now the DMV needs to learn how to do it."
Patterson's biggest problem with the DMV, and with large bureaucracies in general, is the little to no regard they display for the people they're supposed to serve. Instead, they act like we're supposed to serve them.
"My job, in many respects, is to remind the bureaucracies that you are there to serve the people and it's not the other way around," he said. "There has to be a willingness to understand what you're doing to real people."
Such as the thousands of real people who have better things to do than spend their mornings or afternoons standing in line at the DMV.