Stopping by the driver’s license office is one of the most direct contacts many people have with state government. Therefore, it’s an important barometer of the quality of government service. In Fargo, at least, a trip to the driver’s license office is an ordeal.
Customers report delays of 1½ to two hours are common. On a recent Friday, the published wait time at the Fargo office was four hours, when 120 people were waiting for service.
That’s ridiculous. North Dakota Department of Transportation officials should view it as unacceptable.
Granted, those waits could be significantly reduced if more people would think ahead. Those needing to renew a license can go online to schedule an appointment, for instance.
Being prepared by coming in with the proper documents also helps — that’s especially the case for those who will be getting REAL ID driver’s licenses, a form of identification that will be required to board passenger airplanes or gain admittance to federal buildings starting in the fall of 2020.
Some drivers can renew their licenses online, but plenty of restrictions apply. Some groups of drivers who are excluded from renewing online: 65 or older, under the age of 21, those renewing for the first time, those whose information has changed from what appears on their current license.
Even those who renewed online the last time are excluded. Also, those who lack access to a computer, often those who are poor or elderly, have no alternative but to run the gauntlet at the driver’s license office.
“It’s a madhouse in there,” one customer said.
“There is no place to park, nowhere to sit inside, you are stifling in there, crammed like sardines,” another said.
“Why don’t they change something to make it go faster?” yet another wondered.
That’s a very good question.
The answer, so far, is inadequate.
North Dakota transportation officials plan a renovation project of the Fargo driver’s license office that will expand the waiting area — it’s standing room only during high-volume periods — and a more efficient customer flow.
Those steps are well and good. But a larger waiting room and more efficient office layout is only nibbling at the edges of the problem.
News flash to Bismarck: Fargo and West Fargo, also served by the Fargo office, are growing rapidly.
A responsive state government would take note of that growth and adjust accordingly. This isn’t a new problem; it’s been building in recent years, and not just in Fargo.
Gov. Doug Burgum, our tech-savvy entrepreneur-turned-governor, entered office with lots of inspiring talk of reinventing government. An obvious place to showcase a more efficient, responsive government would be to tackle the unacceptably long waits that now are routine for those renewing their driver’s license.
Expanding the waiting room isn’t the solution. Those needing to renew their licenses can’t wait to see some improvements.