My Turn: DMV staff between rock and hard place

As one who has been in that horrendous DMV line for three-plus hours and as one who has been behind that service window to help you, I am in a position to make some statements both by observation and experience as a systems analyst and process improvement professional.

First, this is not the DMV that many are familiar with on the mainland. Here, we have the vehicle registration and licensing (VRL) that is not a statewide agency. It is a county agency under the Department of Finance. Therein lies one of the big issues in your related licensing needs, public education and the service you may be expecting.


The other is in the gross lack of management of the process contributing to public misunderstanding and customer service. The result is a sorely dissatisfied public and the horrible abuse of those at the service window. I can go on and on about how to fix it, but more critical for now is to emphasize the abuse of those serving you.

This team of people in the Kona office (highest single site volume) are among the most dedicated and technically knowledgeable in their field yet treated as indentured servants by their masters and daily treated in disgust by the public who doesn’t get its way despite the rules and laws that govern this process.

Did you know that the starting pay is less than the one serving of pizza at Costco yet they show up every day to do their best to serve you? The Kona office routinely provides staff to Waimea due to staff shortages. That staff closes at 10:30 a.m. to catch up on the morning load and take their lunch breaks. The Hilo staff has one location for drivers licensing and another for motor vehicle registrations. No such relief in Kona. You will often find perhaps two windows for motor vehicles, and the same for drivers licensing, serving you during lunch times and sometimes the entire day.

The staff that processes drivers licensing is the same staff that provides the driving test. Trying to get a practical driving test is another long wait to schedule. This staff also travels to Waimea during the week and on Saturdays to conduct driving tests. The Kona staff has no shutdown for lunch periods or to catch up with the backlog of work.

They are pressed into service and chastised for any issue that gets in the way to promptly begin at 7:45 a.m. and be ready for the doors to open at 8 a.m. When they don’t balance out the day at the end of the shift they cannot get overtime but are expected to complete balancing in the morning when they are pressed hard to hurry and open their service window.

During long lines at closing, those in line are not turned away and this staff is required to stay and serve after their shift and is still pushed to balance the next morning. Stressful — you bet! Then the master is often hovering remotely to ensure that all are available and working or else calls the informal lead to crack the whip.

The management oversight is all about the length of the lines yet management does little to nothing to improve the process or try to propose a working queuing system.

Signage? Lean and not readily visible to help educate. Tools and working conditions? Tight, ergonomically poor work areas, a typewriter that has been reported in serious disrepair, highly cramped work area and, seriously, flying termites abound. All this stress and abuse from both sides of the window — being treated as slave labor and from many in the public who berate, yell, curse and threaten these true professionals.


They routinely give time and miss lunch wanting, instead, to serve that horrible line. Much less competent are getting magnanimous increases while sacrificing those in the trenches. Complain to the mayor and Department of Finance. Don’t take it out on those caught between a rock and a very hard place.

Steve Lopez is a resident of Kailua-Kona.