July 9, 2013

State hopes opening Mondays for summer will bring relief for driver’s license office

Terry Summerhouse spent five hours last week waiting to get his driver’s license renewed at the Wichita office. And he still left without it.

Terry Summerhouse spent five hours last week waiting to get his driver’s license renewed at the Wichita office. And he still left without it.

So he returned Monday morning and tried again. He had his license renewed and was out the door within an hour.

On a Monday? Yes.

For the second straight summer, Wichita’s only driver’s license office – the state’s busiest – has expanded its service time from the normal four-day week to include Mondays. It’s an attempt to alleviate the annual summer crunch brought on by teenagers getting learner’s permits and driver’s licenses.

Monday services began this week for the Wichita office at 1823 W. 21st St. in Twin Lakes Shopping Center.

The office is open from 8 a.m. until 4:45 p.m. on Mondays through Aug. 26. It will continue to be open 7 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

Summerhouse arrived Monday not knowing the office was usually closed on that day.

“Just happenstance,” he said. “You do this once every six years and you forget what the schedule is. This is a very pleasant surprise. There were people wall-to-wall when I was in here last week.”

By late morning Monday, only about 50 people were in the Wichita office. The tracking board on an office wall said the wait to renew a license was one hour, 23 minutes.

“It’ll pick up on Mondays after the word gets out,” said Angela Childers, the office manager. “But we’ll get a few more taken care of by doing this.”

Last summer, offices in Wichita and Olathe were open eight Mondays for the first time since the state went to a four-day work week in 1984. The Wichita office handled 2,229 transactions on those Mondays, according to the Kansas Department of Revenue.

That was an average of almost 280 transactions for each Monday. The daily average for Tuesday through Friday during July and August last year was more than 480, the department said.

Relief for Andover

Opening Mondays in Wichita is good news for the driver’s license office in Andover. Many Wichitans go to Andover in an attempt to avoid long waits.

“There’s a crossover there,” said Jeannine Koranda, spokeswoman for the revenue department. “Wichita is our busiest office, so it’ll be a release valve.”

Andover’s office can use some relief.

Kelly Snedden, a Butler County resident, recently took her 14-year-old son, Cade, to get his learner’s permit at the Andover office. They waited for nearly four hours and he still didn’t get one.

Talk in the waiting line was that crashed computers at Wichita’s office created the long wait in Andover, Snedden said.

“I told (Cade) the good news is we’re not doing this again,” Snedden said.

At the time, she didn’t realize people could get a permit or license in any county in the state.

So on a trip to Mitchell County for the Independence Day holiday, she took Cade to Concordia in nearby Cloud County to get his learner’s permit on Friday at the courthouse. (Mitchell County doesn’t issue learner’s permits.)

“We were the only people in there,” Snedden said, “so it went fast. Then we had a celebratory lunch.”

Jenni Esgro was celebrating that she could get her driver’s license Monday.

“The lines are definitely shorter today,” she said while waiting to take a written test. “It’s a good idea to add Mondays.”

Technical troubles

Computer crashes do cause some of the waiting problems because the driver’s license offices are still running on the old mainframe system. It is scheduled to be updated later this year, Koranda said.

The doubling of applications for concealed-carry permits has also added to the workloads in urban offices, said Donna Shelite, director of the vehicles division. Approval of the permits comes from the state attorney general’s office, but the physical permits are issued at full-service driver’s licenses office, such as the one in Wichita.

But the main waiting woes in the summer come from the seasonal impact of teenagers, who use the time when they’re out of school to get their permits and licenses, state officials say. Statewide, driver’s license offices usually handle about 35,000 novice drivers between May and September.

Some of those must take driving tests, which eat up considerably more time than a regular renewal application.

Last summer, the Wichita office handled 116 driving tests on Mondays.

Koranda said hiring seasonal help, as retail stores do during Christmas time, isn’t practical for driver’s license offices because those workers must undergo weeks of training and background checks.

Although the Wichita office will be open until 4:45 p.m. on Mondays, testing will not start after 4 p.m.

The driver’s license office in Mission also will be open Mondays through the end of August.

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