Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Safety Dept. Commissioner Denounces Long TN Driver’s License Lines

Shelby County is home to the worst performing driver’s license station in the state, according to the agency in charge of license renewals.

But state officials want to change that, by rolling out self-serve iPad stations, outfitting stations with more equipment, and improving the training for workers at the 51 driver’s service centers across the state. They’re also trying to make it easier for residents to never enter those centers, by completing simple transactions over the Internet and visiting in-person only for more complex issues.

Meanwhile, drivers coming to the station on East Shelby Drive in Shelby County can count on being in line 86 minutes on average, the longest wait time in the state, according to the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

“Obviously, that is unacceptable,” Commissioner Bill Gibbons said during a state budget hearing Nov. 6. (View the agency’s budget summary here.)

The state’s goal is to have all its centers performing with wait times of 20 minutes or less and visit times – including the time it takes to actually complete the transaction – of 35 minutes or less. Gibbons said 20 of its centers had met the wait time goal and 25 had met the visit time standard.

The state is in the process of upgrading its 30-year-old driver’s license computer system, though it won’t be in place for at least three years, Gibbons said. And it’s also taking steps like bringing in managers from outside the agency and rolling out more equipment to each station.

“Every driver service center has one copier and one camera,” Gibbons said. “If either malfunctions that center essentially shuts down.”

The department is also experimenting with adding part-time employees to ease wait times during peak times of day.

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Self-Service Kiosks Proposed for Quicker DL Renewals

Tennesseans may see an easier way to renew their driver’s licenses, with plans at the Department of Safety to look at self-service kiosks for license renewals.

Lines to renew driver’s licenses in the state are notoriously bad, and Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons told Gov. Bill Haslam in a budget hearing Wednesday that the waiting periods are “not acceptable.”

Gibbons said the wait is about 45 minutes and can be substantially longer in urban areas.

Gibbons said the driver’s license system is a moneymaker, however, bringing in $39 million per year for the department and $25 million for the state’s general fund. The $174 million base budget Gibbons proposed to Haslam is a zero-growth proposal, he said.

The department is monitoring Mississippi’s experience in providing self-service kiosks for license renewals. Safety officials see a lot of potential in the kiosks and plan to try them on a pilot basis. The kiosks could be used to renew or replace licenses. The process at the kiosk takes about two minutes.

Gibbons said after his presentation the proposed kiosks would be at the normal stations now used for license renewals.

“Not at a Kroger,” he said.

Gibbons said state appropriations cover 68 percent of the revenue in the base budget proposal for Safety, with department revenue and federal grants among other sources.

The department is ready for a new radio system, which will replace one that is more than 30 years old. The General Assembly has appropriated $39.2 million for the first phase of the system, and the department will not move on the second phase at this time, Gibbons said. Federal stimulus funds were also applied to the first phase. The new system is expected to improve communications and will be interoperable with other states — in other words, Tennessee’s system will be able to “talk to” that of other states.

The department is also implementing a new driver’s license system, and the Legislature has appropriated $30 million for it. The department plans $7 million in improvements that include mandatory raises for state troopers, which will cost $801,700.

In meeting requests for 1 percent and 2 percent potential reductions, the department would eliminate 23 positions for the 1 percent reduction and 38 positions for the 2 percent cut.

Gibbons said the department is aggressively promoting use of online services, which has been a frequent line of thinking in presentations of several departments in budget hearings this week. Gibbons said roughly 60 percent of transactions with his department could be done online.

Members of the department told the governor that traffic fatalities have decreased, in part, because of stronger enforcement on more holidays than before, and the strategy includes event days like the Super Bowl.

The Safety Department includes homeland security responsibilities, and staffers told Haslam the department does monitor events like the protests in recent days in Egypt.

The department handles gun permits, which Gibbons said about 300,000 Tennesseans now have.