Customer service has improved at the Poway DMV. “It’s a little better I guess,” said Jonathan Marentes of Mira Mesa, who was there to take his driver’s license exam. (photo by Hoyt Smith)

Shorter waits at the DMV

By Hoyt Smith

Recent changes in customer service implemented by the California Department of Motor Vehicles seem to be making a difference at its Poway office, 13461 Community Road. 

For the most part, citizens registering their automobiles, renewing their drivers licenses, or applying for a newly mandated Real ID for air travel expressed high levels of satisfaction on a busy weekday in February at the DMV facility near the Poway Walmart.

“Today was good,” said R.L. Cook of Rancho Penasquitos, who was picking up new tags for his truck. “I think we were here 55 minutes from start to finish. No complaints at all.”

Spending an hour in line will never be at the top of anyone’s wish list, especially around lunch time. But considering there were more than 60 customers waiting at the Poway DMV around 12:30 p.m., business appeared to be proceeding steadily and efficiently. Most of the 20 service windows were open and staffed.

Results of a DMV audit by the Department of Finance, ordered by the California Governor’s Office and released a year ago this March, noted “significant deficiencies” and an “outdated” organizational structure leading to poor customer service and a failed implementation of the new ID program.

The audit report also cited employee absenteeism, misleading wait times, outdated technology and a “reactive culture that has adversely impacted the field office customer experience.” In response to the critical report, the state agency has taken action.

“The DMV is making great strides to improve public access and increase its ability to serve the public more efficiently,” said Anita Gore, deputy director of the office of public affairs for the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

As of December 2019, Gore said, the California DMV had hired an additional 926 temporary employees and that wait times, once exceeding several hours, have returned to standard levels at most field offices throughout the state. Additionally, Gore said that the DMV has made improvements to its training program, once closing all its offices for half a day to train more than 5,000 front-line staff on field office processes and improved customer service.

“The lines are definitely shorter,” said Aki Jose of Poway, who came to the DMV to replace his expired drivers license. “It feels like it will be quicker this time.”

As for the improved customer service: “It’s a little better I guess,” said Jonathan Marentes of Mira Mesa, who came to the Poway DMV to take his drivers license exam. “The first lady who helped me wasn’t so nice, but it seemed like the second lady was better.”

Another one of the DMV’s goals to reduce wait times and improve customer service, according to Gore, is to provide more service options outside of its offices. This includes the following:

• New online services, such as ordering replacement vehicle registration cards and stickers.

• A DMV Anytime webpage to easily connect customers with business partners (such as the AAA – Automobile Club of Southern California) for registration services. There is an AAA Club office on Sabre Springs Parkway that can handle most DMV transactions.

• More DMV Now Kiosks offering new online services such as ordering replacement vehicle registration cards and stickers. There was a kiosk at the Poway Vons on Poway Road, within walking distance of the Poway DMV, but that Vons closed in February. The next nearest kiosk is at the Ralph’s on Carmel Mountain Road in Rancho Penasquitos.

DMV Now Kiosks offer new off-site services, such as ordering replacement vehicle registration cards and stickers. The next nearest kiosk for Poway residents is at Ralph’s grocery store on Carmel Mountain Road in Rancho Penasquitos. (photo by Hoyt Smith)