Waits at state's motor vehicle offices getting longer and longer

Waits at state's motor vehicle offices getting longer and longer

Credit: Abby Tabor / Houma Courier

Waits at state's motor vehicle offices getting longer and longer

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wwltv.com

Posted on January 14, 2014 at 11:19 AM

Jacob Batte / Houma Courier

It's shortly after 10 a.m Monday and Dusty Allemand has been standing outside of the Office of Motor Vehicles in Thibodaux for almost three hours.

“The last time I came here it was this bad, too,” the 28-year-old Labadieville resident said.

Allemand could go to the Office of Motor Vehicles in Houma but said his wait would be just the same, if not worse.

“There are three or four people inside that tried going to the Houma office last time and came here hoping for better luck,” Allemand said.

A recent report indicates that area residents are sharing their misery with the rest of the Pelican State.

Wait times at locations for the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles have shot up in some places as Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration slashed staffing levels amid continuing state budget cuts, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Office.

A financial analysis, released in a monthly report for state lawmakers, says that as OMV staff dropped 23 percent, wait times grew from as little as 8 to 16 minutes in 2009 to more than an hour and a half by 2013.

Those numbers don't represent wait times, but rather the time between someone taking a number and leaving, said Doug Cain, State Police public affairs commander.

The time published in the report isn't “entirely indicative of the average visit,” Cain said.

“It lumped all of the visits into one figure. If I'm going to renew my driver's license, 90 minutes is too long. If I'm taking my 16-year old daughter to take her license test and they have to do different tests, then 90 minutes is reasonable,” Cain said.

The motor vehicles agency had 739 workers in 2009. It dropped to 568 four years later, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office review, written by analyst Matthew Labruyere.

State Police Col. Mike Edmonson, who oversees Louisiana's motor vehicle offices, acknowledged that wait times have increased as staffing levels have fallen. But he said the data outlined in the fiscal report are only a snapshot in time and don't indicate that wait times are always long for customers.

Edmonson said the average is based on peaks and he doesn't “think it's like that all the time.”

To deal with tighter budgets, Edmonson said he has cut positions through attrition, declining to fill spots as people quit or retire. The budget cuts have hit all state agencies over the past five years as Louisiana grappled with repeated financial shortfalls.

Despite Cain and Edmonson's response to the report, many local residents complain of wait times that are more than double the 90-minute average.

“Three hours for something that took no more than five minutes,” Chauvin resident Peter LeCompte said.

One Houma resident said she took a number, left, ate lunch, went shopping and returned before her name was called.

Some residents said it's worth leaving the area and going to places such as Napoleonville where wait times are much shorter.

Those who report wait times of less than an hour have often figured out the best times to speed up the process, including avoiding Mondays and Fridays and going just before lunch or after 2:30 p.m.

More than 75 percent of customers waiting in line could complete their transaction through expresslane.org, Cain said.

“We want to encourage people to go there for convenience and it will relieve pressure on the field office,” he said.

To also relieve pressure on busy offices, the state requires managers to monitor customers' wait times twice daily — at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If the staff has become overwhelmed, the manager can request assistance.

“What we try to do is try and move personnel around to adapt to volumes as they see it,” Cain said.

If both the Houma and Thibodaux offices were slammed, employees would be moved from across the state to help out.

“It's a daily juggling act. What they'll try to do, if Houma and Thibodaux need help and there's nothing locally, they'll stagger. What that means is that they'll send someone from Baton Rouge to Gonzalez and Gonzalez to Houma or wherever so that we're sending the closest person to help,” he said.

OMV is rolling out a program that allows a public tag agent — a private business that processes vehicle title registrations — to renew state driver's licenses for up to an extra $18 fee.

The program is up and running in Baton Rouge and Metairie, and Edmonson's office said 15 more locations will be available by mid-February, including Toups' Notary Public Service in Houma.

The Office of Motor Vehicles also is exploring the idea of starting self-service kiosks at its locations so people don't have to wait in line for certain types of transactions.

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