Don’t just throw tax dollars at it…fix the problem!

End 8 hour waits for driver-license renewal!

Politicians and the media have in recent months bemoaned long lines at Texas Department of Public Safety driver-license megacenters, with some drivers reportedly waiting in line eight hours in order to renew their licenses.

Legislators have suggested moving licensing authority away from DPS in response, but that won’t fix the problem. Instead lawmakers must finally repeal the Drivers Responsibility fees that complicate license renewal, especially for low income drivers.

Bi-partisan coalition for reform

The following organizations support repealing the DRP: Republican Party of Texas (2018 platform), Texas Public Policy Foundation, Empower Texans, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Texans for Accountable Government (TAG), ACLU of Texas, Austin Justice Coalition, and Just Liberty.

The DRP creates hundreds of thousands of unnecessary and complex driver-license renewal cases

DPS revokes driver licenses for non-payment of debt about a half a million times per year, and all told 1.7 million people currently have their licenses revoked. Most of these people didn’t pay a DRP fee — a fee to the state that has to be paid (in addition to the traffic fine) once a year for three years. This system significantly increases the number of people showing up to renew their licenses every year, and many of these drivers have more complex cases.

As it turns out, suspending a person’s driver-license is not a great way to force them to pay a bill they can’t afford. After conducting a study, California last year stopped using driver-license suspension to punish nonpayment. The reform did not apply to anyone with an existing DL suspension, so it may take years before the license renewal lines start to go down in California. We can do better here.

We support the following ways to reduce lines at the license centers

If lawmakers want to make sure Texas can afford to give rural people a local driver-license facility, regardless of how infrequently they use it in sparsely populated areas, and also improve customer service for most Texans, then they must address the root causes of the long lines in our major urban areas:
1) abolish the Driver Responsibility Program,
2) stop other debt-related driver-license suspensions and collect debt using private-market best practices (government debt is not sacred and does not deserve police/jail enforcement),
3) eliminate unnecessary annual renewals for sex offenders, and
4) give DPS the resources it needs to pick up the phone when Texans call their Customer Service Center.

If the Legislature would fixes those four problems, the lines around the license centers would evaporate virtually overnight.

Don’t blame innocent drivers: fund the call centers

The Lt. Governor blamed long license-center lines on drivers who don’t renew their licenses online: “Patrick said the biggest problem for DPS license offices is that a majority of people visit them to renew their driver’s licenses when they could do so online. He said the department needs to develop a more aggressive plan for educating drivers about renewing online.”

But that critique amounts to blaming drivers for the government’s failed systems. The Customer Service Center which takes phone calls from drivers with license issues is so understaffed that only 20 percent of calls are even answered, and 83 percent of those must wait on hold for 10 minutes or longer before they can speak to a person.

According to the most recent DPS Strategic Plan, currently the agency’s customer service center (CSC):

  • receives approximately 24,400 calls per day, but because of limited staff and technology it is only able to answer approximately 4,880 of those calls, 20% of the demand; Customers are forced to call the CSC multiple times to enter the queue to speak with a Customer Service Representative (CSR).
  • is currently only able to answer about 17% of these 4,880 calls within 10 minutes, far below an acceptable customer service level. Once in the queue, customers must wait an average of 15 minutes before their call is answered.

Such significant understaffing indicates a budget problem created by the Legislature, not a problem with DPS management. In its Legislative Appropriations Request, DPS suggested boosting starting salaries at the Customer Service Center in order to fill 200 vacancies there as of August 2018, reported the Dallas News.

Fund the call center and confused drivers would have a way to know how best to engage with the DPS bureaucracy. As things stand, they show up at the driver-license center because there’s no other way for them to engage with the agency to understand how to navigate the process. Lawmakers should apply tax dollars to the root cause of the staffing issues, and eliminate hundreds of thousands of unnecessary license renewals and complex cases by eliminating license suspension for nonpayment of the DRP.