(Source: Star Advertiser)
September 17, 2018
The city’s driver’s licensing section is reeling under an avalanche of driver’s license renewals, and an already inefficient operation is bogged down further by another problem.
No-shows. More than a quarter of those who make online appointments to handle this chore never show up as scheduled. And the delays this creates merely compound the headaches for everyone standing in line for an interminable wait.
Solutions, high-tech and low-tech, do exist. A series of improvements must begin to help the city manage a radical spike in applications that staff is ill-equipped to handle.
The increase stems from a 2010 change in state law allowing most Hawaii motorists to transition from driver’s licenses good for six years, to those due for renewal in eight years. A huge number are coming due now: Those expiring this summer averaged about 12,000 a month, compared to last year’s monthly average of 2,000.
The city is considering one way to counter the no-shows: requiring a $6 deposit when they book their appointment online (license.honolulu.gov), payable if they don’t keep, or cancel, the appointment. This is not an additional fee; it would be deducted from fees the applicant pays at the end of the transaction.
That is a reasonable step — many businesses and professionals, such as doctors and dentists, have patients forfeit the co-pay, or assess some kind of penalty, for missed appointments, too. But if the city goes this way, it must ensure a timely reminder prior to the appointment.
Overall, the city should work to offer the same added value as the private sector, simplifying transactions for people — with or without computers or mobile phones.
It does appear that it is responding to the multitude of complaints. Sheri Kajiwara, director of the overseeing Department of Customer Services, said that those who enter a cell phone number will get a text confirmation of the appointment upon booking it online, and a reminder text the day before the appointment.
The texts also come with an easy means of cancelling the appointment — more convenient than the website option.
These are good first steps that must be tested and refined in advance of any deposit requirement.
Kajiwara told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that some people book an appointment and then decide to take the walk-in service option instead, neglecting to cancel the time slot.
For those who don’t text, the clerk will check whether the driver has any appointments to cancel. Also, the city is considering a dedicated phone line for cancellations.
This will divert staff time, of course, but it would be an important service. At least while renewals are at the current peak, applicants will be numerous — and many of them not tech-savvy.
The city is fully aware of the challenges it faces and has been making various improvements, including adding Saturday hours, early openings and a fifth day of service at the Waianae Satellite City Hall. The recently expanded online options are welcome, too.
There’s an acknowledged staffing deficit. But temporary hires, enough to manage the crisis workload, should suffice.
Even beyond that point, the workload will continue to climb, gradually. State law now requires that drivers age 72 and older must renew every two years, and increasingly baby boomers are moving into that age cohort.
State lawmakers might want to revisit the two-year requirement and consider adjusting that. At the very least, however, the city will need to improve efficiency for the long term, and get ahead of that demographic curve.
Another hurdle: At some satellite city halls, people who opt to walk in and wait must pay by cash or check. Credit-card payments should be enabled at all sites.