RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)-More than one year after COVID-19 shut down DMV offices statewide, some are still struggling to make an appointment.
In an interview on Friday, DMV Spokesperson Jessica Cowardin said there is still no concrete timeline for resuming walk-in services.
“Because we’re in the middle of a public health crisis we just want to focus on the most safe and efficient method of operation right now,” Cowardin said. “This model of service is working for us.”
Gov. Ralph Northam’s office didn’t respond on Friday when asked if they were considering allowing walk-ins again in the near future.
Cowardin said the appointment only system is, in some ways, more efficient for customers. She said big crowds and long delays upon arrival aren’t an issue. People check in, wait in socially-distanced chairs, receive service through a clear barrier and are generally out in less than 30 minutes, she said.
While it may be a safer system, for some, it has been a source of frustration.
Anthony Page planned to get his ID renewed on Friday at a Richmond customer service center but, when he showed up for his appointment, he realized he forgot his birth certificate. He called his mother, Lisa Carter, to drop it off but by the time she got there it was too late.
“They asked me ‘who told you to come back?” Page said. “We have to get it rescheduled and do it all over again.”
“I wish they would take into consideration that people have to work. It would be convenient if they would open up a time frame for you to walk in at certain ones,” Carter said. “It’s disappointing but that’s life.”
Carter said it took about a month to get the appointment in the first place, which she said is an improvement compared to last year.
“I figure they are doing there best. It is not as bad as it was at the beginning when it was like four months,” Carter said.
According Cowardin, it’s difficult to pinpoint an average wait time for an appointment because it depends on the service you’re seeking and the location.
For example, driving skill tests are in high demand because some customer service centers aren’t currently offering them. Cowardin said a little over half of their locations have “closed courses” set up on-site or nearby so that DMV staff can direct the driver from outside of the car. She said their site in Chester just recently resumed skill tests.
Cowardin said the DMV posts 90 days of appointments online at a time and they update listing daily. However, it’s not uncommon to see that none are available for months. Cowardin said that means they are all booked but she recommends people check back frequently for cancellations.
That’s where the DMV is running into another problem. Cowardin said they have booked about 3 million appointments since the pandemic started and they’re now approaching half a million no-shows. She is urging customers to cancel in those case.
“Those are appointment opportunities other customers may have had,” she said.
Asked what she would recommend for Virginians frustrated by the online system, Cowardin said, “First check and see if what you are looking for can be accomplished online. That’s step one and then maybe think outside of your neighborhood to see what kind of appointment availability might be a little further away. And also, plan ahead.”
Cowardin said they are now offering more than 50 services online, an expansion meant to free up in-person appointment space during the pandemic. She said grace periods for expired vehicle registrations and drivers licenses that were put in place last year have ended but most renewals can be done online.
“The requirement to come into the office is typically for a vision test and so we have postponed that requirement. You can go online for a quick two year renewal,” Cowardin said.
For those who aren’t computer savvy, Cowardin said the best thing to do is call the DMV’s customer service center. She said they have increased staff during the pandemic but admits that long-hold times have been a challenge.