- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2002

A trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles, where customers often wait hours for a license or a title, has become even worse for Virginia residents now that budget cuts have limited operating hours and closed 12 branch offices.
"They have laid off all these employees and cut hours, but how has that saved me money when I have to wait in line for three hours?" asked Sandy Porter, who stood in the rain for most of Tuesday afternoon outside the Fairfax-Westfields branch.
The DMV is among the commonwealth agencies hit hardest by the $855 million in cuts that Democrat Gov. Mark R. Warner announced last month to reduce a $1.5 billion budget deficit.
There are 61 branches that remain open on a limited schedule, which includes closing on Wednesdays. Employees who have not taken advantage of leave-time opportunities will be laid off tomorrow.
"We had to make some hard choices," Mr. Warner said at the time of the announcement.
But those choices have angered some residents, who think providing accessible DMV branches is an essential government service.
On Tuesday, a steady line of about 30 customers had to wait about an hour in the rain at the Fairfax-Westfields branch before they were allowed inside to conduct their business.
"And now I have to wait another hour and 54 minutes before I can get service," said Miss Porter, 25, after being assigned a number and momentarily reassigned to the outside line.
She comes to the DMV branch several times a week as part of her job. Before the cutbacks, Miss Porter said, she had to wait no more than 20 minutes. But as of last week, she said she has waited a total of more than six hours.
Pam Goheen, a DMV spokeswoman, said customers had to wait outside Tuesday because of fire-safety regulations. She also said the branch reached full capacity by 2 p.m.
Customers at the Alexandria branch on Mill Road were allowed inside Tuesday, but still had to wait at least an hour to complete their business. Though just seven of the 15 windows were open, Ms. Goheen said the situation was not necessarily different before the budget cuts.
That statement was little comfort to the customers waiting outside Fairfax-Westfields.
"They should think about cutting back on funding on days like today," Kathy Reid, 46, said sarcastically. Mrs. Reid, a Defense Department employee, waited for about an hour to renew a title.
Many in line did not realize how drastic the budget cuts were until they arrived at Fairfax-Westfields.
"I had not thought about the impact at all, especially for the middle of the week like this," said Powell Williams Sr., 62, of Burke. "I did not realize it was going to be this drastic."
Mr. Powell had his wallet stolen hours earlier and needed to get a new driver's license. Had the wallet been stolen before the cutbacks, he would have gone to thenow-closedFair Oaks location.
"I understand budget cuts and all, but there are women and babies out here in the rain," said Mr. Williams, a retired airline pilot. "It's ridiculous."
Ms. Goheen said Fairfax-Westfields has seen significantly more customers since the Fair Oaks location closed. She encouraged patrons to avoid the long lines by using the phone or using the DMV's online services.
However, many customers said Tuesday they have had little success using a computer because the Web site information is incomplete or unclear. They also said their business had to be done in person.
"I cannot take my driving test online," said Warren McCulloch, a securities manager from Fairfax who had waited 30 minutes in the outside line and was only halfway to the door. "And so I came here to take it. The [Web site] stated if the weather was bad, they might not give it. But nobody will tell me until I get inside if they are administering the test."
David Metzger left his home in Cortland, N.Y., about an hour south of Syracuse, on Tuesday around 2:30 a.m. to pay a ticket for running a stop sign. He first went online and called to find whether he could pay by mail, but was told he had to appear in court before paying the fine. Nearly 12 hours after leaving home, he was barely halfway through the outside line.
"I was supposed to be back at work by 3 p.m." Mr. Metzger, 18, said. "That is never going to happen. The people of Virginia should start a petition to get these hours changed. It is nowhere near this bad in New York."
The situation is unlikely to change soon.
A spokesman for Mr. Warner said the branches were closed after consulting with the DMV about the volume of customers and services offered. She said restoring hours or reopening branches was unlikely.
Jose Morales, 34, a carpenter from Centreville, said that was unfortunate. Mr. Morales was waiting in the line with his wife and their 3-year-old daughter so the couple could renew their licenses.
"If [my wife] is lucky, she will be inside in a half-hour," he said, after waiting 40 minutes under a roof with his daughter. "I don't know why they do this. It really is not fair."

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