FARGO — People dropping in for a driver’s license renewal or similar services in Fargo are waiting longer than before, even though many could cut the hassle with some advance planning.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation Driver’s License Office here, just off Interstate 29 at 503 38th St. S., is experiencing more significant wait times this summer than last.

The average wait time in Fargo this month is one hour, 45 minutes — compared with one hour, 7 minutes last July, said Robin Rehborg, interim director of the Driver's License Division.

In reality, however, some customers wait far longer, depending on the day and time they stop in.

Over the noon hour on Friday, July 19, the NDDOT website showed an approximate wait time of four hours, with 120 customers in line. With lobby chairs full, people were seen standing and sitting in hallways and spilling out the front entrance.

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This screenshot of the North Dakota Department of Transportation website shows a four-hour wait time, with 118 customers in line, at the Driver's License Office in Fargo around noon on Friday, July 19. Special to The Forum
This screenshot of the North Dakota Department of Transportation website shows a four-hour wait time, with 118 customers in line, at the Driver's License Office in Fargo around noon on Friday, July 19. Special to The Forum

Around the same time the day before, Amy Nichols of Fargo came to get her license renewed, as did Debbie Sorrells of West Fargo.

“I filled out the application, got my number and waited between two and two and a half hours to be seen,” Nichols said.

“My number is 82, they’re at 60,” Sorrells said, adding, “I have patience.”

What the women and apparently some others who showed up at the office didn’t know is that many of its services can be done on the NDDOT website, and appointments can be made online in advance for in-person business, to avoid the wait.

Several people The Forum talked with had done just that, including Lynn Marr of Fargo. “I was in to see the clerk two minutes before I was scheduled, and the whole process took less than five minutes,” Marr said.

Something to plan ahead for next time, Nichols said, but it still wasn’t bad, despite the wait. “Once I was there, they processed me quickly, efficiently and were very nice,” she said.

People wait in the North Dakota Department of Transportation Driver's License Office in Fargo on Thursday, July 18. Derek Murray / WDAY
People wait in the North Dakota Department of Transportation Driver's License Office in Fargo on Thursday, July 18. Derek Murray / WDAY

Get online, if you can

Last summer, The Forum checked the Fargo Driver’s License wait times after receiving a letter critical of the office.

Reasons given by the NDDOT for the long waits then are some of the same ones listed now: a growing population, seasonal trends — including teenagers getting permits and licenses, and commercial drivers looking to be certified — along with more people seeking a “REAL ID.”

The higher security form of identification will be required to board aircraft and access federal facilities, starting in the fall of 2020.

Rehborg said for REAL ID, customers must apply in person, but making an appointment for that service and others can speed the process along. Currently, the office is booking out to mid-August, and they’re considering expanding their 30-day scheduling window to 45 days.

The bulk of their transactions are people seeking driver’s license renewals and duplicate licenses, Rehborg said, but many of those can be done online.

When lines at the office are long and the matter isn’t urgent, Rehborg recommends people leave and make an appointment instead. “Come back at that time, so you don’t have to sit and wait,” she said.

Rehborg said licenses can be renewed 10 months before they expire, so there’s no reason to wait until the last minute to do so. It also helps when customers have all the documents they need. Those items are spelled out on the NDDOT website.

Expansion, remodel ahead

There will likely always be drop-in traffic at the driver’s license office, because it takes time to get the word out about online services, and some people simply may not have internet access.

Abdoulie Barry of West Fargo is in favor of the state building a second driver’s license office in the area. “The queue is too much. You know, people have to get to work,” he said.

While that may not be in the cards for now, relief is on the way.

The NDDOT is planning to expand and remodel the Fargo District building, including the driver’s license space, beginning in August, with the construction lasting about a year.

Rehborg said during that time, certain written testing services will be moved offsite to a North Dakota State College of Science building in north Fargo. However, road tests will still be done at the usual spot.

The project will add about 2,000 square feet to the building, including 700 more square feet for the driver’s license area. It will mean a much larger waiting area and better flow for customers, she said.