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Steve Ahillen
By Steve Ahillen April 28, 2012

A ways yet to drive

In his campaign literature, candidate Bill Haslam promised to make the Tennessee Department of Motor Vehicles a more people-friendly operation, stating: "I will also improve public safety by working to improve the efficiency of the Tennessee Department of Motor Vehicles and make sure taxpayers are treated like valuable customers, the way we do in business.”

The problem of long lines at driver's license counters has been an issue for years, with previous administrations making various, mostly fruitless attempts to remedy the situation.

We asked the governor's office about Haslam's plan and received a list of eight bullet points. The points range from rolling out self-service kiosks and developing consistent days and hours of operation to better training of examiners through a study with the Peabody College at Vanderbilt University and developing easy-to-complete customer surveys.

No question there is an effort being put forth, but we wondered about the results. The Department of Motor Vehicles is a sub-department of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.  The TDSHS keeps records of the wait customers experience at licensing offices. Officials point out the stats are a little twisted because the clock at a given office starts ticking only after a customer has picked up a service number ticket – the one you grab then wait until your number is called like it sometimes is at a bakery. In some urban offices, especially Memphis, there have at times been waits in line to even get a service number ticket – a wait time that would not be counted in the statistics.

That said, it is still of value as an apples-to-apples comparison over time and we received a chart from the TDSHS that shows mixed results. These statistics are listed monthly from January 2011 to March 2012. They include an average minute wait and a total of customers served. If more customers are served in a given month, that month is likely to have a longer wait time. For example, the January 2011 entry lists an average wait time of 25 minutes but just 84,712 served. This compares with January 2012 with the wait time increased to 31 minutes but 103,060 customers served.

Jennifer Donnals of the TDSHS explains: "This increase in traffic was due to the issuance of voter IDs before the March primary. So, while average wait times have not dramatically decreased in the past 15 months, we have serviced more citizens and maintained the wait times.”

Looking at the chart, the results just don't look that impressive, even considering Donnals' explanation. It's going to take a little more time to judge whether the center wait time is decreasing significantly. We"ll wait. We also note that wait times don't exactly cover all that the governor promised. It's a little hard to judge with numbers how someone is treated when he or she does finally get waited on. We will be interested to view the results of the customer service survey.

While the governor has indeed made numerous efforts to improve, the jury is still out on whether the goal has been accomplished. We give it an In the Works.

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