Oversight committee questions DMV chief

Customer service and modernization were among the issues discussed

North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, pictured in 2019, faced questions during a Feb. 29 meeting. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — During a Feb. 29 meeting of the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee, the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Wayne Goodwin was questioned about a host of issues, including long wait times, modernization delays, budget asks and vendor contracts, as well as license plate agency franchising and car dealer licensing.

In a prehearing statement, the committee gave an example of frustrated customers — such as U.S. Army veteran Tyler Tickle, a recent arrival to the state who had to go to four DMV offices to get a license and had appointment issues as the system showed no availability for three months. Tickle gave the NCDMV a “Zero out of 10.”

The hearing, which lasted nearly three hours, began by focusing on long wait times for North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicle (NCDMV) appointments and customer service issues like booking appointments.

Frustration with booking teen license appointments was addressed at the onset of the meeting by Sen. Michael Lazzara (R-Onslow), one of the committee’s co-chairs who served as chair for last Friday’s meeting. The Onslow lawmaker recounted a law enforcement officer having to make “multiple trips” and “wait in line for hours” to get his teenagers their driving tests.

For the better part of a year, Lazzara has made no secret he wants to see the NCDMV privatized.

Goodwin, during his prepared remarks, said some of the issues at hand “predate” his tenure but he has tried “to learn as quickly as possible and consult experts” to reach common goals.

“(It) hasn’t always been easy,” Goodwin said. “There have been some hiccups along the way, but I believe, respectfully, we’re doing much better now than we were two years ago. But there’s still more work ahead.”

During the hearing, Goodwin referred to a 46-page presentation he had prepared that listed his primary goals such as shortening wait times and lines, modernizing internal technology and apps for customer use, filling NCDMV examiner vacancies, protecting customers from identity theft, providing more online services, and improving customer service across the board.

In terms of long lines at NCDMV offices, Goodwin said staffing shortages were an issue.

“But with the staffing shortages and with the additional services we provide, unfortunately, there are times when things line up, the lines do develop,” said Goodwin.

Per Goodwin’s presentation, the NCDMV vacancy rate was between 25-30% in Jan. 2022. The NCDMV chief said his agency wants to get permission from the legislature to convert temporary positions to full-time permanent positions and add 40 full-time examiners to fill open spots statewide.

He also said every person who comes in has a” different issue” and a quarter of made appointments are missed.

“And when you have throughout the day no-shows for 25% or more of your time — that created inefficiencies,” Goodwin explained. He added that as a result, morning hours had been set aside for scheduled appointments while afternoon hours were filled with walk-in customers.

Later in the hearing, Sen. Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell) asked Goodwin if there had been any conversations on how to modernize driver license appointments “so that families don’t have the burden of actually having to be at the DMV within three times in less than 18 months.”

Goodwin, who has a 15-year-old son with a permit, expressed concerns about scheduling driving appointments that might conflict with school hours.

“What we have encouraged folks to do is that because our peak season is during the summer, that’s when a lot of the teen drivers and their parents and guardians decide to proceed,” said Goodwin. “That’s when we have opportunities for the Saturday morning walk-ins at the 16 locations statewide. We’re also looking at extra hours to help address this too.”

There are currently 115 driver’s license offices across the state, up three from last year. Goodwin indicated 45 offices open an hour early at 7 a.m. and 16 offices have Saturday hours during the summer.

Sawyer added she was hoping the NCDMV was looking at the possibility of public-private partnerships to alleviate teen driver demand.

“We’re very much interested in private partnerships as it relates to teen drivers,” said Goodwin, who added his agency was looking into what kinds of tests can be performed by outside vendors, as is already the case with driver’s education classes.

Goodwin also said there were “many additional modernization initiatives” that have been undertaken that people might not realize were happening, saying the agency has made progress and is seeking to hire private consultants to assist in an agency-wide systems overhaul.

Goodwin told lawmakers that in January the NCDMV entered into an MOU with the State of Arizona to implement a “System Modernization effort” and North Carolina would be able to use the Arizona system code at no cost.

The modernization will replace multiple aging mainframe systems with a “single solution containing all customer information,” according to Goodwin’s presentation.

About A.P. Dillon 1293 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_