COLUMBIA — The S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles is using new information on its website, television screens in its waiting rooms and multiple greeters at its largest offices to help cut wait times for customers.
“Just take a look at the website before you go, and you will find out what your wait time is supposed to be,” said DMV executive director Kevin Shwedo.
A look at the website one afternoon last week showed that at the DMV's largest office, on Shop Road in Columbia, seven people were in line, with an average wait time of five minutes. It also gave a breakout on how many people are waiting for each specific service, such as getting a driver's license, renewing a vehicle registration or taking a road test, among others.
Shwedo said the new system is based on a new computer program that helps the agency manage “queue flow.”
“It allows us to get people into the shortest lines possible, and decreases wait times for everybody,” Shwedo said.
The program allows managers to tweak the queues, or lines, behind-the-scenes to ensure customer representatives see an orderly flow of clients. It allows managers to see exactly how long each customer spends in the office, which helps assess how long each task might take. It also offers a record in case there are complaints about the agency's service, Shwedo said.
Each transaction at the DMV differs. For example, it takes several hours to take the test for a commercial driver's license, while it takes only minutes to turn in unneeded license plates, said DMV spokeswoman Beth Parks.
Since the new system has been put in place over the past six months, the average wait time has been cut to “around 10 minutes,” Parks said.
Long lines and waits at the DMV have been a touchy subject in South Carolina.
GOP candidate Mark Sanford brought up the long lines and difficulties at the agency in his 2002 campaign to defeat Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges. In September of that year, Sanford pointed out that the average wait time at a DMV office was 66 minutes.
Sanford pushed for and got several reforms put into law, including making the DMV a stand-alone agency with a director appointed by the governor, instead of being a division of the Public Safety Department. Additional testing sites were opened, among other changes.
Shwedo said that in general, the new system works like this:
Once people enter any of the 45 largest of the agency's 67 offices, a greeter finds out the task each visitor needs to accomplish. If the incoming number of clients is large, managers can add a second greeter.
Customers are asked whether they have the proper paperwork in hand that might be needed, and if they do, they are given a ticket with a letter-number combination. Their information is entered into the new computerized program.
Clients then look at television screens, to see when their number comes up and which counter they should go to.
Sandra Reed of Columbia said she came to the office to purchase a training book for her 15-year-old daughter Jazmyne James. In the past, a visit to the DMV took “an hour, an hour and a half,” said Reed, who noticed her number appearing on the screen within minutes of arriving.
“That's us! Let's go!” said Reed, adding, “Today, it's been better than anytime, ever.”
Tim Peters of Columbia, who said he'd come to transfer the title of a vehicle, said he only waited eight to 10 minutes before being ushered to a representative.
“It's nice. The last time I was here, it was going on 2 hours” before he was seen, he said.
Shwedo said a new twist is that advertisements and public-service announcements such as news, weather forecasts or promotions for organ donation are displayed on the television screens. Advertisements that are not accepted would be those for firms directly involved with the DMV, such as for commercial driving schools or car dealerships, he said.
The advertisements, which must be approved in advance by the DMV, include ones for local jewelry stores, insurance companies, lawyers and hair salons.
Shwedo said he agreed to adopt the new approach when he saw such a system used on websites for other states like Maryland and Virginia.
The system was installed and paid for by the firm Motor Vehicle Network, which sells the advertising on the televisions, Shwedo said, resulting in no added costs for the agency. While all offices have the computerized system which allows the agency to view numbers at each site, the televisions and advertising probably won't be installed at all of the offices because they are so small. “It's a win-win for us,” the director said. “It seems to be working very well.”