RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- There are new signs of normal life at the Department of Motor Vehicles, as Virginia offices begin offering more appointments and allowing vaccinated customers to go without masks.
Yet DMV Commissioner Richard Holcomb said there are still no plans to resume walk-ins, even with capacity and distancing restrictions set to lift entirely statewide on May 28. Holcomb said lessons learned during the pandemic may drive a more permanent shift in the way offices run well after COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror.
This week starts the first phase of a push to bring more customers back for in-person appointments.
On Monday, the DMV added 63,000 new appointments to its website for scheduling, which will start on June 1. Additional windows will open in stages on June 15 and in July as the DMV increases staff, accounting for a total of 184,000 new appointment opportunities across the Commonwealth, according to Holcomb.
Holcomb said the appointment-only system could be here to stay but it’s too soon to say for sure.
“The appointment system is working extremely well. 78% of customers like it, we’re doing more transactions than we did before, and quite frankly we keep migrating more and more transactions to the internet to make it more convenient,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb cited a 12% increase in average weekly transactions as evidence that the process, inspired by the pandemic, is more efficient for staff and customers than the unpredictable crowds of the past.
Asked if he would rule out the return of walk-ins long-term, Holcomb said, “I can’t answer that question at this point because certainly what we’re doing now is very different than what we were doing pre-pandemic and frankly we want to see what happens when we add 184,000 transactions. We are constantly trying to make things better.”
The appointment-only system hasn’t been without flaws. Slots are posted 90 days at a time and many of the new appointments posted for June on Monday were swooped up quickly by Tuesday afternoon, depending on location and service.
Over the past year, several customers have reported waiting months for an appointment.
“It might not be instantaneous but we hope that you’ll be able to get an appointment the next day or no later than the next week. That’s our goal,” Holcomb said.
Contributing to the backlog are nearly 600,000 no-shows out of the almost 4 million appointments scheduled throughout the pandemic, according to DMV data. Holcomb said it’s important for people to cancel appointments they can’t make to free up space for others.
Furthermore, Holcomb said Virginians should get used to “starting their visit at home.”
In other words, make sure the service you’re seeking can’t be done online and that you have all the documents you need before coming in person.
The DMV is also shifting its mask guidelines for customers in accordance with new CDC recommendations. It means fully vaccinated Virginians (employees or visitors) don’t have to wear a mask in customer service centers, according to Holcomb. Those who haven’t received the shot are strongly encouraged to continue wearing a face covering.
“We are not going to be inquiring at the front door as to whether you have been vaccinated. We certainly will rely on the honor system,” Holcomb said.