DMV offices close Wednesday for training, but Gov. Newsom says changes will take time

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KABC) -- California's Department of Motor Vehicles closed its offices for a half-day Wednesday to re-retrain employees for better customer service, but Gov. Gavin Newsom is cautioning improvements may take some time.

The DMV is trying to improve customer service by accepting credit cards, upgrading its website and offering clearer instructions on how to obtain a new federally mandated ID, but Newsom cautioned Tuesday the agency's long wait times and other troubles aren't over.

"This is going to take a few years. Next year will be tough," Newsom said, referencing an expected surge in people using the Department of Motor Vehicles next year to acquire new IDs that will be required for air travel.

Newsom spoke as he released a report detailing efforts the DMV is making to improve services after wait times averaged two hours last summer, prompting outrage from lawmakers and customers. The state hired the high-powered firm McKinsey & Company to recommend improvements, with the funding coming out of roughly $240 million in new money the DMV got in this year's state budget.

Newsom also announced he's appointed Steve Gordon as the agency's director. Gordon is a longtime employee of the private sector, working for Cisco Systems and most recently for zTransforms, a consulting company focused on business-wide process improvement. He is not registered in a political party and will make $186,000. The state Senate must approve his appointment.

The DMV has been plagued by slow-downs related to the state's "motor voter" registration program and an uptick in people applying for REAL IDs, the new federal IDs that will be required for airplane travel starting in October 2020. More than 28 million Californians may seek a REAL ID.

Beyond hiring McKinsey, the state has brought in a public relations firm to create a statewide awareness campaign about the new IDs and a consulting firm to think about what DMV offices should look like. The report did not say how much each is being paid.

"The unprecedented complexity of the REAL ID requirements is what led to the idea that we needed to take the extraordinary step of closing DMV offices for a short time to make sure all employees have consistent information in order to complete the transactions successfully," said Marybel Batjer, California Government Operations Agency secretary.

Other changes include the planned acceptance of credit cards, which will start at a Davis office in September before expanding to Fresno, Victorville and Roseville. The state hopes to eventually accept credit cards statewide. The DMV has also started launching REAL ID "pop ups" at businesses and plans to open 100 kiosks in August, where people can do routine transactions such as renewing vehicle registration without going to a customer service window.

The goal, Newsom said, is to improve through small changes. "We're not going big at first - we want to go small and build on successes," he said.

Wait times are down considerably, with the average wait time at two hours for customers without an appointment in 2018, down to about an hour this year. The department credits lower wait times to its newly extended hours. More than 20 Southern California DMV locations open an hour earlier four days a week.

The department also plans to hire between 1,800 and 1,900 new workers, most of them temporary, through next year. Newsom's announcement comes a day before the DMV plans to close offices statewide for half a day for a day of training for its more than 5,000 employees.

Republican lawmakers were divided on the Democratic governor's actions. Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson of Fresno faulted Newsom for "making excuses" for the DMV rather than re-imagining it and criticized him for saying wait times could be long again next summer. But GOP Sen. Pat Bates from Laguna Niguel said Newsom was taking "steps in the right direction to help fix the DMV."

The report did not address problems with the state's "motor voter" registration programming, and Newsom said an audit on the program will be coming out soon.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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