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Oklahoma officials blame budget cuts, increased traffic for increasingly longer driving exam lines

Driver's license applicants in Oklahoma line up as early as 1:30 a.m. to take their test. Division head said staffing is down 30 percent after three successive years of budget cuts.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD zcampfield@opubco.com Published: July 23, 2012

This has been a summer of discontent at driver's license offices across Oklahoma as applicants often must line up in the pre-dawn hours or miss out on a license altogether.

Nearly 100 people were lined up on the sidewalk outside the Department of Public Safety's driving exam station in Yukon before its 7 a.m. opening Thursday. This day, a dozen were allowed to come in for testing; the rest were sent home. There was a similar situation at the Edmond office on Friday.

State officials blamed the lines on successive years of budget cuts, which have meant cutbacks in staff and even office closures in some rural parts of the state.

“This is our fourth time to try and get her in,” said Connie Jarel, who stood outside the Yukon office Thursday morning with her 17-year-old granddaughter, Connar. “We've come at 4 (a.m.), 4:30, and finally I told her last night we'll be over here at midnight.”

The Jarels, determined to make it this time, drove in 50 miles from Binger and showed up at 1:30 a.m., securing the second place in line. They spent the early morning hours chatting with strangers and napping on the sidewalk.

“By 3:15 they had 10 people already here,” Jarel said. “If you're No. 10 here, you start over.”

The waiting rooms at exam stations across the state have frequently been a place of monotony, but new applicants say the process this summer has never been more frustrating.

Most offices affected

Lines such as the one in Yukon are common before doors open at the department's offices in the Oklahoma City metro area. With closures in some rural areas, the backup is starting to affect nearly all the offices.

“This may be the worst summer that I've seen,” said Jeff Hankins, director of driver's license services for the department. “Every one of our offices are just overwhelmed with the number of people that are coming in. We can only accommodate so many in a day.”

Hankins could not quantify the surge in license applicants, but said three straight years of cuts is demonstrated easiest by reductions in personnel.

The number of examiners and clerks at licensing offices decreased from 152 in 2009 to 105 this year. That reflects successive budget cuts departmentwide from $97.2 million to $84.9 million over the same period.

Since 90 percent of the driver's license services' budget is personnel, cuts have had a huge impact.

“The state offered voluntary buyouts to people, and we had several of our examiners take those buyouts, and then we can't replace those positions for three years,” Hankins said. “In the Oklahoma City office we should have 11 examiners, but because of that and with vacation and sick leave we've been down to as few as five or six.”

Frustration for all

At 7 a.m. on the dot, Jack Lyles, one of three examiners at the Yukon office, stepped out onto the sidewalk and spread the bad news. A quick show of hands indicated most people — the Jarels included — were here to take their driving test. Lyle counted off to 12, and told the rest it was time to pack up and go home. There isn't enough time in the day — or examiners on site — to take care of any more than that before closing, he said.

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