published Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Wait times still long in driver service centers in Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Although state officials have made improvements in how driver service centers operate, motorists still have long wait times for service.

The Tennessean reports attempts to cut wait times over the last two years have been hampered by computer issues and an increase in handgun permit applications.

Gov. Bill Haslam promised two years ago to work on cutting the wait for customers at the centers.

At one center in July, people waited an average of 40 minutes before getting service. At another center in Nashville, people were given estimated wait times of three hours.

Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons said he hopes the setbacks, which he hopes are temporary, show how difficult the job of fixing driver service centers has been.

"It is a big challenge," he said. "We came into a situation where there was what I call a culture of mediocrity that had existed for a very long time. And that's not just a problem in Tennessee. I think that's a problem nationwide in driver's license operations."

The administration has installed more than 100 self-service kiosks for routine business such as drivers renewing a license or asking for a replacement.

However, some business — including handgun permits — must be handled at the window and applications for those have surged. To complicate matters, a computer system that was supposed to help cut wait times and combat fraud hasn't worked as well as anticipated.

Kenny Spence, who waited to transfer his license back to the state after moving back from Maryland, said the center he went to seemed disorganized.

"There wasn't any sense of urgency," he said. "It seemed very understaffed."

Gibbons said some of the centers are old and have low staffing levels, but that it wasn't realistic to expect spending to increase for either.

"We understand the fiscal limitations the state is under," Gibbons said. "So what we're going to try to do is push more of these transactions outside the center."

Although wait times are long, Gibbons said there have been some improvements, including expanded hours and more training for employees and customer satisfaction surveys show people are happy with their service once they receive it.

"They're having to wait too long," Gibbons said, "but I think we've made some real progress."

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