DMV backs use of appointment-only system as Virginia Senate approves proposal to resume walk-ins

Virginia News

DMV office on May 18, 2020. (Photo: 8News)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A legislative effort to force the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to resume same-day services cleared a hurdle this week, but the agency believes its current appointment system is still the appropriate course of action “for the foreseeable future.”

On Wednesday, the Virginia Senate approved a budget amendment proposed by Sen. Chap Peterson (D-Fairfax City) that would require the DMV to accept walk-ins within 30 days after the budget bill is signed by Gov. Ralph Northam. The amendment must be approved by the House of Delegates and then by Northam.

DMV spokesperson Jessica Cowardin wrote in an email Friday that the agency’s appointment system, which was launched last May, has helped the DMV become more efficient with quicker transactions and shorter customer wait times.

“According to the most recent customer satisfaction survey data, 77% of DMV customers statewide would like to see DMV continue service by appointment,” Cowardin wrote. “For the foreseeable future, especially with COVID-19 variants emerging, DMV believes the appointment system is the appropriate course of action.”

Nearly 25,000 people have submitted answers for the DMV’s customer satisfaction survey, but more than 242,000 have been asked. While 77% of respondents did indicate they would like to see the DMV continue its appointment system, the numbers also show people’s satisfaction with the availability of open slots varies.

Sen. Peterson said his office receives “complaints all the time about DMV” from constituents and spoke on the Senate floor about the difficulty he has experienced when trying to book an appointment for a license renewal. He added the DMV can include any conditions if the proposal is ultimately passed.

“They [DMV] can mandate people wear masks. They can do that. Have people make an appointment and make that a separate line to make it more efficient,” Peterson said Wednesday. “They can do that. But they need to have same-day service.” 

Several lawmakers praised Peterson’s proposal on the Senate floor, many of them from across the aisle.

“We cannot fail to provide the services that tax dollars pay for in a time where we are absolutely not under a state of emergency,” Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) said Wednesday.  

Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) called it an “excellent idea” and Sen. Richard Stuart (R-King George) said it was the “most practicable and best idea” he’s heard since arriving in Richmond for the special session on Aug. 2.

The chairman of the Virginia Senate Transportation Committee, Sen. Dave Marsden (D-Fairfax), said the legislature has yet to hear from the Northam administration about when the DMV will return to pre-pandemic procedures. Sen. Marsden did, however, pledge that the transportation committee would hold hearings to determine how the DMV should move forward with walk-in services.

Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) and Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax), the chair of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, spoke about their concerns over rising COVID-19 case counts across the country and in Virginia.

It remains unclear whether the Northam administration supports the proposal, but Sen. Saslaw said Wednesday that he doesn’t believe the budget amendment will get past the governor’s desk.

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

“Most Virginians don’t know we are here. Most Virginians don’t know we are in session. Most Virginians don’t know we are voting on a budget,” Sen. Jill Vogel (R-Fauquier) said. “But I got news for you, if Virginians knew we’re dealing with the DMV, if they heard or do hear we are dealing with the DMV, they will know we are here.”

“This is probably, if I don’t accomplish anything else during this session, it would have been worth my time,” Sen. Vogel added.

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