Zurik: Louisianians frustrated with hours-long delays at motor vehicles facilities

Commissioner claims a 2016 bill is to blame for mounting wait times
(Jon Turnipseed/WVUE)
Updated: Jul. 30, 2019 at 10:00 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Louisianians line up most mornings before the sun rises to be the first in line at the Office of Motor Vehicles facility on Veterans Memorial Boulevard in New Orleans. They take a spot in the early hour in hopes of avoiding wait times inside which have been increasing across the state in recent years, according to data obtained by FOX 8 Investigates.

The location in New Orleans is the state’s busiest. State records show the workforce for OMV facilities has remained about the same over the past four years. The number of customers served has also been largely the same over that time period. The wait time, however, has continued to rise.

“Yeah, I’m mad. They ought to do something about this,” one woman waiting in line said.

In 2015, the average customer waited 37 minutes to get a driver’s license at the Veterans office. The wait has gone up every year to reach an average of two and a half hour wait this year for a driver’s license.

The Office of Motor Vehicles only tracks wait times at facilities that have an electronic tracking system. In those offices, a number is assigned when a customer arrives and is used to track their wait time and how long it takes the transaction to be completed.

The Commissioner of the Office of Motor Vehicles, Karen St. Germain, said the current wait times are the best they can do but they hope to lessen the times customers are waiting.

“I’m not going to disagree [that the numbers are bad],” St. Germain said. “The problem is the time goes in coordination to the amount of people who go into Vets.”

Veteran Enos Coulter was at the Veterans OMV facility for a second day in a row trying to get his paperwork for a new license and plates. On this day, he was on hour four of waiting at the Vets OMV office, before learning he needed to return another day to complete the process.

“I haven’t got it done yet,” Coulter said. “I just don’t know, maybe hire more people. I’ve noticed there’s a lot of booths that are empty. I think that’s the primary thing.”

But the Veterans location is not an anomaly. Records show average wait times over one hour at the Harvey, Livingston Parish and Baton Rouge locations.

Above: A person arrives at the Veterans Blvd. Office of Motor Vehicles facility in the 6 a.m....
Above: A person arrives at the Veterans Blvd. Office of Motor Vehicles facility in the 6 a.m. hour in June 2019. Below: People are seen waiting at the Veterans OMV facility at 6 p.m. December 28, 2018.

The commissioner said the wait times are largely due to a bill passed in 2016 that sets up people who have outstanding fines, penalties or fees to get their driver’s license reinstated by signing up for an installment plan through the Office of Motor Vehicles. She said the length of signing people up for this program has led to more people waiting longer times.

Office of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Karen St. Germain agrees that the wait times at certain...
Office of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Karen St. Germain agrees that the wait times at certain OMV facilities are too long, but she hopes to bring the average wait time down to an hour.

“Each installment is a 45 minute process,” St. Germain said likening the process to drafting a contract.

Records from OMV showed the Veterans Facility serviced 11,000 of these customers last year. Our crews have observed the facility for months seeing people waiting in the lobby in the dark, hours after the doors have been locked.

“As legislators we intro legislation, we don’t think that we just put more work on OMV employees,” St. Germain, a former legislator, said.

The 2016 bill was introduced by State Representative C. Denise Marcelle. The Baton Rouge-based representative, disagrees that her bill is to blame for OMV wait times and says under-staffing is the issue.

“I think we as a state have an obligation to make sure the staff is there to serve the public," Rep. Marcelle said. "If we don’t do that, then we certainly need to see about increasing the budget.”

When the bill was moving through the legislature, the fiscal office determined it would have a marginal workload increase.

State Representative C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, believes her 2016 bill setting up a...
State Representative C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, believes her 2016 bill setting up a payment plan system is not to blame for the long wait times at Office of Motor Vehicles facilities.

“I don’t think it’s acceptable for the citizens of Louisiana that we can’t take care of business because we’re understaffed,” State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle said. “I think we need to put the funding where we need to put the funding to make sure we have the proper staff.”

Right now, the Louisiana legislature has not appropriated any new money to the Office of Motor Vehicles, meaning the wait times are not going to get better any time soon.

“What should be the wait time? The maximum I’d like to see is an hour,” St. Germain said. “Do I wish it wasn’t so? But that’s reality.”

A reality that infuriates Louisianians who spend several hours waiting through the lines at facilities statewide.

One person waiting in line had a suggestion for those in charge of the department and funding.

“All of them need to come here and pull a number and see what we go through”

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