Houston Chronicle

Long line for new licenses

Hundreds of thousands have expired IDs, tags as waiver ends

- By Dug Begley STAFF WRITER

Time is up for those with expired vehicle registrati­ons and driver’s licenses, leading to longer lines at local renewal locations.

Gov. Greg Abbott suspended enforcemen­t of driver’s license and vehicle registrati­ons as part of emergency orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the thinking being it would eliminate the need for people to travel to local government offices. The Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Department of

Motor Vehicles announced in December that the moratorium would end April 14, and urged people starting in February to address any expiration­s. Officials sent frequent advisories by Facebook, Twitter

and Instagram.

“Now that the waiver has ended, law enforcemen­t may be issuing citations for operating a vehicle with expired registrati­on,” said Adam Shaivitz, spokesman for the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, which oversees registrati­on. “We urge anyone with an expired sticker to renew right

away. The quickest way to renew is online. You can renew online as long as your sticker is no more than nine months past its expiration date.”

Despite weeks of advance warning, officials anticipate­d a surge as the deadline approached and knew it was likely people would not be able to make appointmen­ts by April 14, said Ericka Miller, spokeswoma­n for DPS. As of April 1, she said there were 858,000 licenses classified as expired in the state system.

Those unable to make an appointmen­t by the time their license expires can go online and request a temporary driving permit that is valid until the date of their appointmen­t. In order to receive the temporary use, however, you must have an appointmen­t scheduled and the license expiration cannot be prior to March 13, 2020 — the day Abbott’s waiver went into effect.

The vast majority of Texas drivers can renew licenses online, but that has not stopped a slight uptick in activity at Texas DPS sites, which still are observing social distancing and safety procedures that limit how many people can be seated in the lobby. In-person services require an appointmen­t.

“Offices do offer a very limited number of same-day appointmen­ts,” Miller said. “These appointmen­ts are available on a first-come, first-served basis and are filled very quickly. Customers who book these appointmen­ts at the office, can then leave until their designated appointmen­t time, so there is no need to wait in line.”

Miller stressed the best and most efficient way is to make an online appointmen­t for a set time and day, and then only show up 30 minutes prior to that appointmen­t.

One problem that seems to be affecting services, Miller said, is skipped appointmen­ts. In March, 28 percent of appointmen­ts — 198,000 customers — were noshows, she said, citing DPS data.

The average wait time once someone arrives for the appointmen­t varies across the Houston area. As of Wednesday, when demand peaked at some license centers, wait times averaged more than an hour in Conroe for a renewal, but seven minutes at the Houston office on Dacoma.

Those difference­s in the length of lines, Miller said, could be caused by multiple factors, ranging from staffing levels to missed appointmen­ts to people showing up and standing in line without an appointmen­t to arriving too early anticipati­ng delays.

“Out of 231 (driver’s license) offices statewide, only 39 experience­d an average wait of over 30 minutes in the last 30 days, and of those, just 11 averaged 45 minutes or more,” Miller said.

There also are significan­t difference­s in how long someone must wait for an open appointmen­t. At the DPS office on Tidwell in Houston, the earliest appointmen­ts available were 33 days away, according to state data. At the Galveston office and the mega centers in north Houston and southwest Houston, appointmen­ts were available early next week.

People in some Dallas-area locations fared worse.

Houston-area spots were moving much more smoothly, those waiting in line said Thursday morning.

For informatio­n on how to conduct renewals and registrati­ons online or find an appointmen­t, go to www.texas.gov.

 ?? Yi-Chin Lee / Staff photograph­er ?? Socially distanced Texans wait in line Thursday for their appointmen­t at the DPS driver’s license office on Dacoma.
Yi-Chin Lee / Staff photograph­er Socially distanced Texans wait in line Thursday for their appointmen­t at the DPS driver’s license office on Dacoma.
 ?? Yi-Chin Lee / Staff photograph­er ?? A worker helps Texans lucky enough to get an appointmen­t Thursday at a DPS driver’s license office in Houston.
Yi-Chin Lee / Staff photograph­er A worker helps Texans lucky enough to get an appointmen­t Thursday at a DPS driver’s license office in Houston.

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