Patience wears thin with delays at driver’s license, tag offices

Sighing, grumbling and in some cases, swearing, about 150 people stood, or sat, in line Tuesday to try to get new or renewed driver’s licenses at Twin Lakes near 21st and Amidon. Meanwhile, just south of there, the scene was repeated as dozens of people waited hours at the main Sedgwick County tag office for vehicle tags or registrations.

No one was happy.

The Kansas Department of Revenue is working out kinks in a new system that state leaders say eventually will save time by combining data about Kansans’ driver’s licenses and vehicle registration. The state’s driver’s license stations and tag offices were closed the first week of May so workers could transfer 6.8 million records to the new $40 million system.

On Monday, the department issued a news release apologizing for long lines at tag offices because of a problem that wouldn’t allow employees to print out registrations, including decals and receipts.

The Division of Motor Vehicles, the release said, “sincerely regrets the inconvenience experienced by Kansans who were not able to receive service in a timely manner.”

The state is urging people to renew tags online at or by mail and has extended deadlines for registration renewals.

On Tuesday, not only was the main tag office in downtown Wichita slow, but so was the driver’s license station. The state said the long lines were not caused by the same problems.

“The problems we had with the system yesterday appeared to have been fixed, and the system was functioning this morning,” Revenue Department spokeswoman Jeannine Koranda said of tag office business. “Then this afternoon the problems reappeared, and we took the system offline in the afternoon to implement a fix.”

She noted that the Wichita driver’s license office “is one of the busiest in the state, and Tuesdays are typically the busiest day of the week.”

“The driver licensing system was not part of the technology upgrade this round and has not been affected by the same problems as the vehicle title and registration system,” she said.

The new system is expected to go live for driver’s licenses later this year.

An all-day errand

Christie McKaig showed an Eagle reporter the text messages the license office had sent her throughout the day Tuesday, updating her about where she was in line. The text message system is a relatively new service that allows people to leave and run errands but keep their place in line.

McKaig checked in and received her first text message at 11:18 a.m. It said she faced a 127-minute wait.

Thirty minutes later, she received a text message that 96 people were ahead of her and she had a 123-minute wait.

At 12:18 p.m., a text said 83 people were ahead of her and she would be waiting 111 minutes.

At 12:48 p.m., a text said 72 people were ahead of her and she would be waiting 102 minutes.

By 1:18 p.m., two hours after her initial text message, the system told her 57 people were ahead of her and her wait would be 94 minutes.

At 1:48 p.m., 46 people were ahead of her and the wait was down to 74 minutes.

Three hours after she checked in, at 2:48 p.m.,14 people were ahead of McKaig — actually, her daughter, Jenna, 15, who was trying to renew her instructional permit — and the wait was estimated at 26 minutes.

By 2:51 p.m., the wait was down to 14 minutes.

“It’s frustrating,” McKaig said. “I had a slow day at work and thought ‘I can do this in an hour.’ ”

But Kansans across the state are finding that getting a new license or renewing a tag is, at times, an all-day affair.

“I don’t think I’ve ever waited longer than an hour before,” McKaig said, adding that she and her daughter left for lunch, ran some errands and sat in their car for quite a while. “I think the solution is to have more than one (driver’s license station) for 350,000 people.”

Wichita has one driver’s license station, at 1823 W. 21st St., Suite 42. It is open 7 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.

A two-day errand

Meanwhile, Don Ballard visited the downtown tag office for the second day in a row Tuesday.

He and his wife waited two or three hours Monday to get a tag for a new vehicle but finally were told, Ballard said, that “they wouldn’t get to us by the time they closed.”

So Ballard, a Wichita resident who is retired, came back at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

He was still there at 2:10 p.m.

A relative brought him and his wife food and something to drink, and they ate in her vehicle.

At 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, the state shut the system down again because of problems and estimated it would be down an hour, Sedgwick County Treasurer Linda Kizzire said. Workers sat behind their desks as people waited.

The system came back up about 3:40 p.m., Kizzire said.

The new system “was a huge project, and unfortunately, we can’t control if the system is functioning or not,” Kizzire said earlier in the day. After a shutdown for the second day in a row, she said that she hoped the system would start working consistently.

“I hope this last fix keeps it stable,” she said.

Ballard was customer No. 71 on Tuesday afternoon. The ticket counter was stuck at customer No. 65.

“So we’re only six short,” Ballard joked.

But at that time, the state had projected the system would only be down from 1:15 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. It was down until nearly 4 p.m.

Ballard called the situation “kind of annoying,” but he also said that he is retired and in no real hurry.

“Other people are losing money, but I guess I’m making money” by waiting to pay, he said.

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