Saturday, August 25, 2018

Texas DPS getting a bum rap over proposed driver-license center closures

The press and politicians around the state are blaming the Texas Department of Public Safety for creating a list of 87 under-utilized rural driver-license centers for possible closure. Many of those centers have just one staff member and/or minuscule traffic.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick was the latest to weigh in, declaring in a written statement, "I do not support the closing of these DPS offices." "I believe the Senators on the Sunset Committee will also make their voice clear on this next week."

Here's the problem with that statement: DPS only created the list because they were DIRECTED to do so by the Sunset Commission. In its April report (p. 3/p. 11 of the pdf) regarding the agency, one of the Commission's "Key Recommendations" for reducing lines at the license centers was to "Require DPS to develop and implement a plan to close inefficient driver license offices."

The Lt. Governor blamed the problem on drivers who don't renew their licenses online:
Patrick said the biggest problem for DPS license offices is that a majority of people visit them to renew their driver's licenses when they could do so online. He said the department needs to develop a more aggressive plan for educating drivers about renewing online. 
"I will be working in the next legislative session to ensure that DPS has the personnel and equipment needed so drivers can renew their license as quickly and easily as possible," he said. "However, the fastest and best way to significantly cut wait times now is simply to let the thousands of Texans who show up everyday, and don't need to be there, know that they can renew their license online."
But as Grits argued the other day, that critique amounts to blaming drivers for the government's failed systems and the Legislature's chintzy funding decisions. The Customer Service Center which takes phone calls from drivers with license issues is so understaffed that only 20 percent of calls are even answered, and 83 percent of those must wait on hold for 10 minutes or longer before they can speak to a person.

Although Sunset staff didn't address the underlying budgetary question, it's dire, and a huge aspect of drivers' confusion about where and how to renew licenses. According to the most recent DPS Strategic Plan, currently the agency's customer service center (CSC):
receives approximately 24,400 calls per day, but because of limited staff and technology it is only able to answer approximately 4,880 of those calls, 20% of the demand. The CSC is currently only able to answer about 17% of these 4,880 calls within 10 minutes, far below an acceptable customer service level. Customers are forced to call the CSC multiple times to enter the queue to speak with a Customer Service Representative (CSR). Once in the queue, customers must wait an average of 15 minutes before their call is answered.
That's a budget problem created by the Legislature, not a problem with DPS management. Fund the call center and confused drivers would have a way to know how best to engage with the DPS bureaucracy. As things stand, they show up at the driver-license center because there's no other way for them to engage with the agency to understand how to navigate the process.

Even that, though, won't fix the structural problems Grits identified earlier in the week. DPS revokes driver licenses for non-payment of debt about a half a million times per year, and all told 1.7 million people currently have their licenses revoked. That significantly increases the number of people showing up to renew their licenses every year. (California last year had to address the same issue, ceasing use of driver-license suspensions to punish non-payment.)

In the comments to that earlier Grits post, Mary Sue Molnar from Texas Voices added that the insensible requirement for nearly 100,000 sex offenders to renew their licenses annually (separate and apart from existing sex-offender registration requirements) also doesn't help the problem.

In essence, these structural problems with the licensing system mostly stem from driver-license "mission creep" - using them as a form of virtue signalling or debt collection as opposed to a mechanism for ensuring drivers have minimum driving skills and providing valid identification.

The biggest reason DPS isn't doing a better job of "educating drivers" is the legislative decision not to adequately fund the DPS Customer Service Center. But there are also policy changes that would reduce pressure on lines at the DL centers, in addition to public-education campaigns. And I've yet to hear a Texas politician talking about any of them, at least in the context of this debate. (Some of these conversations did begin in the 2017 legislative session, but more in the context of equity, not license-center lines.)

If lawmakers want to make sure the state can afford to give rural people a local driver-license facility, regardless of how infrequently they use it in sparsely populated areas, and also improve customer service for most Texans, then they must: 1) abolish the Driver Responsibility Program, 2) stop debt-related driver-license suspensions and collect debt using private-market best practices, 3) eliminate unnecessary annual renewals for sex offenders (thanks Mary Sue!,) and 4) give DPS the resources it needs to pick up the phone when Texans call their Customer Service Center.

Your correspondent, perhaps unexpectedly, has a lot of sympathy for DPS in this debate. In all of this they're reacting to legislative mandates: from the license suspensions to requiring sex offenders to renew annually to understaffing the Customer Service Centers to compiling a list of license centers for possible closure. They have done exactly what the Legislature asked them to do in each and every instance, and now they are being blamed for following orders.


charles said...

As to annual renewal of DL's for people on the on sex offender registry, could someone please offer a logical/ justifiable reason for this?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Virtue signalling, as mentioned in the article. There's no practical reason for it, it's just a way to signal that they consider sex offenders bad people. Because otherwise, how would we know? [/sarcasm]

Anonymous said...

Because some sex offenders move and do not change their address. The State is trying to keep you and your family safe and informed.

Unknown said...

That last argument holds absolutely no merit since it's state law that everyone, not just registrants,must apply for a new driver's license within thirty days of an address change.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Exactly, 5:14, plus they already have to notify the state of their address for registration purposes. It's redundant and punitive, there's no practical reason to make them do it.

Anonymous said...

In reply to Anonymous 8/26/2018 040600pm

Registrants are required to give their registration authority notification of moving 21 days in advance, the receiving authority also 21 days in advance. the information is posted in the database as required by law. D/L renewal give no such information to the public, it is simply an additional tax base for that to fill its coffers. Until just recently, we paid the full D/L fee every year

Anonymous said...

You're uninformed and ignorant concerning this subject. There's not one shred of data that backs up what you are saying. This requirement informs no one and doesn't provide safety in any form.

Anonymous said...

I'd say that the majority of sex offenders could be considered "bad people" for which I'd neither want as neighbors nor would I believe the requirements to renew are only for an additional tax base. With some exceptions like young love (18yr old or 19yr old having a consensual sexual relationship with a 15yr old) for which I do have some sympathy, sex offenders messed up enough to be found guilty by a court and thus are ordered to comply with registration requirements, one of which appears to be to renew their ID on a more frequent basis. It's part of it.

Even with the 30 day change of address requirement for everyone to change their address upon a move, it's not unreasonable to believe many people don't change their address for either forgetting it's required or because they don't want to. It's not unreasonable to put more teeth or bite for failing to change an address for a sex offender on their ID. Redundant as it may seem, it's reasonable.

Excluding DPS mega centers, the majority of DPS driver license office are older facilities built in the 1960s or 1970s when the population of Texas was a lot less and the ID verification procress was much more simple. Modernization of facilities could greatly expedite wait times. I'd guess that driver license employees have a lot of turnover hindering the ability to answer questions over the phone.

Anonymous said...

DPS should setup their customer support line to use the personnel in the underutilized offices. That would be an extremely cheap way to increase the number of calls answered. And the telephone technology for such a geographically distributed call center is now standard in the private sector. They would just need to call Verizon or ATT to get it enabled on their call center line.

DLW said...

An elderly person who lives in Shackelford or Eastland or Callahan or Stephens County (or any similar rural County) and who doesn't drive into the larger places like Abilene anymore doesn't care who is to blame. All they know is that they may have to drive into some place they are not familiar with and wait in a line for 3 hours to get their license renewed instead of going to their local Courthouse on the day a driver's license officer is there.

I get that Texas is a low tax, low service State but the State agencies have the ability to prioritize how they use the money the Legislature gives them. The Department of Public Safety is no different and some of the money used on their PR and Political campaigns along the River on our Southwestern border could be used to avoid inconveniencing our Seniors and other tax payers who happen to live in sparsely populated Counties.

Anonymous said...

Except it's a felony for them not to maintain current registration @4:06

In fact the state is double dipping on this, the same information is provided to the local police to upload to a DPS database as is provided by those offenders to DPS when they renew.

DPS is the curator of the state registry and they are redundantly collecting that information.

Either allow RSO's to keep their licenses and strictly renew at the local authority, OR let them register at the DPS office and redirect all the money spent paying actual police officers to fill out registration paperwork to something more useful... Like staffing DPS offices which benefits us all!

Or you know, stop letting the government masturbate you that a registry of "dangerous persons" is worth anything.

George said...

Care to explain why "sex offenders" are any worse people than murderers or people, including parents, who physically, emotionally and psychologically abuse children or drug pushers who knowingly help to destroy people's lives.

I doubt you any reasonable explanation as to why you feel as you do. Threats to our society isn't only from those who commit crimes, people who are hyper judgemental and close-minded also present themselves as threats to a true and just democracy.