Line forms to criticize San Francisco DMV policy

In an attempt to cut down on the notoriously long delays at the Department of Motor Vehicles in San Francisco, the office’s new managers have introduced a policy that frequently forces customers to line up outside, regardless of the weather.

So as if waiting in line at the DMV weren’t miserable enough, now you may be doing it in the rain.

But DMV officials say it’s either wait in the rain or wait longer inside.

The DMV office near the Panhandle in San Francisco has historically had some of the longest wait times in the state. Waits have averaged from two to three hours for customers without an appointment, DMV spokesman Armando Botello said, while the state’s average is closer to one hour.

Until recently, the office had two separate lines for people to enter, one on either end of the Fell Street building, lines that generally fit inside the building. But those have been consolidated into a single line on one end of the building, Botello said.

That change has helped the DMV cut down its wait times to close to an hour, Botello said. But it also had the unintendend side effect of forcing customers to wait outside, sometimes for an hour or more, just to arrive at the “Start Here” counter where they can obtain a number.

And in inclement weather, that line can be pretty miserable.

“It’s like they’re treating us like animals,” said Sara Harrington, a 17-year-old Cole Valley resident who lined up in the rain last week to apply for an identification card. “It really makes the rumors about the DMV seem true.”

Harrington had come prepared for bad weather with an umbrella. Not so fortunate was Fred Ratliff, who was behind her in line, enduring the spitting rain with a bare head.

“Just the fact that we gotta stand outside is the part that gets under my skin,” said Ratliff, who needed a computer printout of his driving record in order to apply for a job. “If I knew we had to stand outside, I’d have driven to Daly City instead.”

Harrington said she too would have considered driving to the DMV in Daly City, but there was a slight problem: She doesn’t have her driver’s license.

“If I had a car, I’d drive to Daly City,” she said. “But I can’t get a car without all this business. It’s the cruel, cruel cycle of the DMV.”

Back of the line

2.5 million Customers served by DMV each month
1 hour Average wait time at DMV, statewide
2-3 hours Average wait time at San Francisco’s DMV before this year
9,337 Number of DMV employees statewide, as of May 2011

Source: DMV, State Controller’s Office

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