At the counter at the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Riverhead last Thursday, January 16, a staff member was asked if customers were cranky.
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “But it is what it is.”
A staff member circulated among crowded benches previewing people’s paperwork, checking to see if they had all the documents they needed, as a computer-generated voice called out numbers over a loudspeaker.
It was standing room only in the space by 10 a.m.
The state’s Green Light Law, which allows undocumented immigrants living in the country without legal permission to use foreign-issued documents to prove their age and identity so they can apply for driver’s licenses, has flooded State DMV offices with crowds of hopeful, would-be drivers since it took effect in December. Combined with a rush of people applying for enhanced driver’s licenses — which soon will be helpful for U.S. domestic air travel — have made for unusually long lines.
Waits at the DMV now average three to four hours, the greeter at the Riverhead branch said.
One Southampton woman, who declined to give her name — “I called in sick to come here” — was visiting the DMV to get her enhanced license. She waited three hours and 20 minutes to complete the process.
“What can you do? You’re stuck. You have to lose a day,” she said.
Enhanced, upgraded licenses will be required starting in October 2020 for anyone who wishes to travel by air. A passport may be used instead of the licenses, which require applicants to provide up to five separate proofs of identity and address.
One must bring a birth certificate, Social Security card and marriage/divorce documents if the applicant’s name changed from their birth certificate. Two additional documents — a utility bill, bank statement or pay stub — are required to prove legal residence.
An elderly visitor to the office from Montauk carried in an Amazon box as proof of her address. Finding out there was a three-hour wait, she left, having procured an appointment at the Hauppauge branch next month.
It appeared that the bulk of the crowd was made up of non-English-speaking applicants. The voice of staff members behind the photograph counter speaking Spanish to customers could be heard from the benches.
Cheryl Venturino of East Moriches also waited more than three hours to renew her license.
She said that day’s visit was her third. “The first time, the line was around the block. The second time, I waited 45 minutes outside, and when someone said ‘three hours for a renewal or upgrade,’ I left,” she said.
Both Ms. Venturino and Vinny Conwell of Shelter Island suggested separate lines for people who were not applying for their first-time licenses. “Not to make this racial,” Mr. Conwell said, “but people with minimal paperwork should be seen faster.”
He was there to change the address on his license and endured a three-hour wait. “This is ridiculous,” he said.
Nearby, outside the front door, a young woman from Ridge said she tried to reserve a time via an appointment — and learned the only available months were March and April. She’d just passed the Commercial Drivers License test and was merely trying to get her CDL card.
Mr. Conwell complained that after an hour-long wait, “they put us in the picture booth.”
He didn’t need a photograph, and said he was told, “That’s just how we do it.” After the photo was taken, he would wait another two hours to get to the counter.
Matthew Arthur of Flanders said his mother visited the office the prior day, and it took, as with most interviewed, three hours to renew her license, with no appointments available until April. He was there to take the test for his permit but forgot a necessary document.
“Two hours for nothing,” he said.
LaTora Forbes of Riverhead was resigned. “It wasn’t that bad,” she said.
Ms. Forbes reported that she’d attempted to visit the DMV the prior week, arrived at 6 a.m., and the line already wrapped around the building all the way to the deli in the corner of the plaza.
“Everybody tries to avoid here,” she said, “but at least there’s a 7-Eleven and you can get coffee. “
During her first visit — she needed to replace a lost ID — she said people were sitting in cars in the parking lot and had boxes and jugs of laundry soap holding their places in line.
“It’s funny to watch people drive here to get their license. This parking lot was filled,” she said. At one point the fire lanes were clogged with cars and, said Ms. Forbes, “the fire department came and told them to move.”
She added, “I don’t think they were prepared. I don’t think they expected this outcome.”
State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. agreed.
“When the Green Light Bill was passed in the June, the DMV had until December to prepare for its implementation,” he said. “Even a few weeks before the December 16 effective date, there was no information available about the new law.
“It was known that more than 51,000 people on Long Island could be eligible,” he continued. “Yet, the DMV was completely unprepared.”
He said there was “no question” that the deadline for enhanced licenses and the Green Light Law combined to create the crowds and overload.
“The new law will generate $57 million in new revenue — which should have been pledged for implementation,” Mr. Thiele added. “The recent hiring of 320 employees and additional hours is a step in the right direction, but it still isn’t good enough.
“The public has the right to expect timely and efficient service from its government. The DMV needs to do better now, by committing the resources necessary to reduce the long lines and delays.”
For more information, visit https://dmv.ny.gov/which-id-right-me