Lois Hodge and her granddaughter Amber Maxwell waited for five hours to renew Maxwell’s driver’s license at the Mission license office on Tuesday.
Scott Bluhm of Leawood also tried to switch his Missouri license to a Kansas license on Tuesday but was turned away from the Mission office because the wait time was too long.
And Larry Thomas, who just moved from Phoenix to Overland Park, stopped by Tuesday afternoon to see about getting a new Kansas license. He was told it would be best to come back some morning at 6 a.m.
“They’re not only full today, but they’re full almost every day,” Thomas said outside the state-run driver’s license location at 6507 Johnson Drive. “It ought to be much more automated than that and easier to do. I’ve lived in a lot of states ... Only Massachusetts was as bad as this.”
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As temperatures have soared in Johnson County this summer, so have tempers and frustration levels of motorists trying to get driver’s licenses at the two state-run locations, in Mission and Olathe, that serve Johnson County residents.
The license offices are run by the Kansas Department of Revenue’s division of vehicles, and the department is very familiar with the complaints, department spokeswoman Rachel Whitten said Tuesday.
Summer is always a busy time, Whitten explained, because many teenagers are getting their licenses while school is out.
Adding to the lines and the frustration is that a prior system of sending text alerts to people, telling them when they should show up at the licensing office, is no longer available. And customers wanting a Real ID, which will be necessary to board a plane in 2020, add to the workload.
“We’re aware of the frustration and we’re working as many angles as possible to address the issue and alleviate the pressure on the driver’s license offices,” Whitten said. “We appreciate the patience of the public.”
Some people were especially irate because Tuesday was the last day to register to vote in Kansas, and they needed an updated license to register to vote. They were told at the Mission office that they couldn’t be served that day.
People tell of repeated trips to the office, showing up at 6:30 a.m. and still waiting hours to be served. Or they show up after lunch and are told the office is already at capacity and not taking any more customers that day. For people who take off time from work, it can be an impossible situation.
Johnson County commissioners vented last week about the problem, which they said has been going on for two months.
“I know one individual, a mother with three small children, was there 3 1/2 hours, with a 1-year-old,” Commissioner Jim Allen said. “To me, that level of service is unacceptable.”
Whitten said some solutions are in process, including boosting staffing and expanding hours at the Olathe office, 13507 S. Mur-Len Road. That office will now be open on Mondays, as well as Tuesdays through Saturdays. The hours will be 7 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. Saturday. The Monday summer hours will end Aug. 20.
The Mission office is open Tuesday through Saturday.
“This is just one of the many solutions we are working on to alleviate lengthy waits at the driver’s license offices in Johnson County this summer,” David Harper, director of the department’s vehicles division, said in a news release Tuesday evening. “My team is working every day to address this issue from all angles.”
Whitten said a new online scheduling system, called the Q-Flow Wait Line Management system, took effect in February 2017 and it doesn’t provide text alerts. That was a major source of frustration from motorists who spoke to The Star on Tuesday.
What’s most different this year, Whitten said, is it’s the first summer that the offices have been issuing Real IDs. The Real ID Act established minimum security standards for driver’s licenses to access federally-regulated airports and other federal facilities such as military installations and nuclear power plants.
The Real ID licenses require more documentation, Whitten said, and it takes longer to process them.
“You’ve got additional documents to scan into the system,” she said, adding that many people don’t bring in the proper documentation the first time so they have to come back, adding to the lines.
Mark Nanos of Prairie Village tried to get a Real ID. He said it was an ordeal both because of the long lines at the Mission office and also because of confusing and seemingly arbitrary document requirements.
Nanos said he visited the Mission office twice before he was able to get in the door. On his third visit, he was told that even though he had a passport and what he thought was a valid social security card, he was told it wasn’t acceptable.
“I had my original mailer with the stub attached but that did not qualify,” Nanos said. “I was told you have to have your original social security card that was detached.”
He was told that other documentation such as a W-2 form or tax return was acceptable, even though he didn’t have to show his social security card to get those documents.
“The absurdity of the policy is the problem.”
Eventually, Nanos was able to get his Real ID, but it took four trips.
Whitten was sympathetic but said the state has to comply with federal requirements. More information about the required documentation is available at https://www.ksrevenue.org/dovrealid.html.
Harper said the Real ID requirements “effectively doubles the workload on our offices,” even though the Real ID licenses won’t be required to board an airplane until Oct. 1, 2020. He suggested people wanting a Real ID wait until this fall, when the offices typically aren’t so busy.
In the department’s release Tuesday, Harper acknowledged that the current check-in system and absence of text alerts has caused a great deal of consternation, especially because offices fill to capacity so quickly each day and people are turned away long before 4:45 p.m.
“We are exploring all options to make the online check-in as effective as possible for our customers,” he said. The department said it has sent additional staff to work in the Johnson County offices and new hires are currently in training to increase the number of examiners offering services. Work is also underway to improve the online check-in system.
It can’t come soon enough for people like Bluhm. He moved a few months ago from Missouri to Leawood and knows he has a 90-day grace period to get a new Kansas license. He’s visited the Mission office three times but was always told the wait was too long. And getting to the office before 7 a.m. is a big hardship.
“I’ve tried three times and to no avail,” he said Tuesday. “I drive a lot for my work and the last thing I want to do is have to worry about getting pulled over, getting a ticket, when I’ve made a conscious effort to try and get my license renewed in a new state.”