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The DMV Says Wait Times Are Shorter, So I Tested It Out. It Crushed My Soul

LAist/KPCC reporter Caleigh Wells takes a number on Thursday, Sep. 6, 2018, at the Santa Monica office of the DMV, which claims it has reduced the average statewide wait time by a half hour. (Photo by Caleigh Wells/LAist)
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Ah, the DMV. I can't say I was hoping to spend my day reporting here.

But then yesterday, DMV Director Jean Shiomoto released a letter saying that DMV wait times were down by an average of 30 minutes statewide, thanks to more employees, longer hours and better tech. That would take the time spent in the department's notoriously long lines from 130 minutes down to 100 minutes. And the letter claims the DMV will bring wait times down another 10 minutes by the end of September.

So I drove over to the Santa Monica DMV on a late weekday morning to put the claim to the test (and while I was there to get theREAL ID driver's license that we all need by 2020 to fly on a plane without a passport).

The official website promised an hour wait at the Santa Monica DMV.

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But that estimate doesn't include the line out the door to get the ticket to start the official wait. The wait before the wait, if you will. And that wait was 48 minutes.

By the time that wait was over, the original wait was up to an hour and a half.

But even that was not to be.

By the time my number was called, the official wait was 2 hours and 20 minutes. Add the wait before the wait, and our grand total was 3 hours and 8 minutes.

That is almost an hour longer than Santa Monica's reported average wait time for the month of August.

During those three hours, I met Gabriel Anderson, who was there to take her written driving test. She was in the same boat.

"I was in line at 10:30. When I got to the first desk, it was 11:57," she says. "Now I'm just waiting for them to call my number and it's 1:14. And I'm about 13 people away."

She lives in Los Angeles, but she picked Santa Monica because of a short advertised wait time.

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"When I checked online before I came, it was a 12-minute wait. And then when I got in line it was an hour and 30 minutes. I was like 'No, Lord have mercy,'" she says.

Stevie Robinson was about 20 people behind me. He had been there for 45 minutes when I found him, but he said the wait actually did seem better than when he was here in July.

"It was shorter than last time. Last time it was out the door and down the sidewalk," he said.

Anderson said she's learned that there's no beating the wait. "You just have to have patience and make sure you eat before you come."

Robinson had the same advice.

"I always dread waiting. It requires patience," he said. "That's my experience. Bring your patience with you."

Wondering what the expected wait time will be before you go? You can see how your local DMV office stacks up before and after the change in the report below. You can also look up current wait times by selecting your local office on the DMV website.

Correction: A previous version of this story mispelled DMV Director Jean Shiomoto's name. It also did not acknowledge a warning on the department's website that its official wait time doesn't include any time spent in line before entering the building. LAist regrets the error.

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