Those long lines at DMV? You can blame Real ID, but that’s not all, says commissioner.

Summer is normally the busiest season for the Division of Motor Vehicles, but this year the lines have been especially long, with queues stretching outside DMV offices and customers routinely waiting several hours to be served.

DMV Commissioner Torre Jessup says the usual summer crowds have been made worse by a crush of people coming in to get a Real ID, a driver’s license that meets new federal identification requirements. People will need either a Real ID or two forms of identification to board a commercial airliner in the United States starting in October 2020.

The DMV estimates that as many as 4 million North Carolina residents will want a Real ID, and since last fall has been urging people not to wait until 2020 to get one. Unlike a simple driver’s license renewal, driver’s must bring their documents to a DMV office to get a Real ID, and the agency feared driver’s license offices would be overwhelmed closer to the deadline.

It appears many offices are overwhelmed already. About 600,000 people have gotten a Real ID so far, accounting for about a third of transactions at DMV offices. Jessup said that largely as a result of Real ID the average wait time at a driver’s license office statewide last month was twice as long as the average for all of last year.

“That’s the difference that we’re seeing here,” he said at a press conference called on short notice Wednesday to acknowledge what DMV customers have been experiencing for months. “On top of our normal seasonal, high-volume traffic, we’re seeing individuals who are paying attention to what we’re saying about the critical need to get their Real ID in advance of the deadline, and we’re seeing the impact of that in our offices.”

Jessup said the DMV would be taking steps to try to better manage the demand and to accommodate customers, who at some offices must wait outside in the summer heat. For example, he said, customers seeking to make appointments will be urged to consider traveling to other nearby offices that may not have such a long wait.

“We’re always looking for efficiencies in our process,” he said. “And we will continue to do so to accommodate the surge that we’re experiencing as a result of Real ID.”

What the DMV won’t be doing soon is hiring more employees or opening more offices. Jessup said the agency will ask the General Assembly for more money for workers and offices next year, but that won’t help now. The DMV has 113 driver’s license offices statewide, with another slated to open in Charlotte in a few months.

The DMV is already having trouble filling the jobs it has. Jessup says the state has positions for 552 driver’s license examiners but that 80 of those are now vacant.

Jessup noted that DMV offices in other states are starting to see crowds of people seeking Real ID, too. In North Carolina, he said, the problem is worst in the DMV’s 25 to 40 busiest offices, mostly in the Triangle and other urban areas. With millions more North Carolinians expected to want a Real ID in the next two years, Jessup said the pressure on the DMV won’t subside.

“I expect that more and more people will be getting their Real ID,” he said. “But I also expect that we’ll have more and more solutions coming online to deal with that traffic.”

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling
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