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DPS hopes to speed driver's license process with megacenters

06/13/2012 11:28 PM

06/14/2012 11:27 AM

HURST -- Few things are more frustrating than wasting away the hours in a driver's license office.

In Hurst, the drama typically begins about 6 a.m. each weekday, when people line up outside the Texas Department of Public Safety building on Northeast Loop 820. Their goal is to be among the first customers inside after the doors open at 8 a.m., so they can get their business done without sacrificing an entire day.

"It's easier for me to get here early, and get it over with before I go to bed," said Eric Howell, 34, of Euless, who was first in line Wednesday morning. After working an overnight shift in southwest Fort Worth, the oil field truck driver arrived at the Hurst office at 6:10 a.m. to renew a hazardous materials endorsement on his license.

For years, the DPS has been peppered with complaints about long lines and poor customer service at driver's license offices. In the latest attempt to fix that problem, the agency is opening what it calls "megacenters" in Fort Worth and other major metro areas.

The centers -- most of which haven't been built -- will be larger than most typical DPS offices, with employees trained to handle driver's license requests quickly.

A groundbreaking is scheduled this morning for a DPS megacenter near Interstate 30 and Eastchase Parkway in east Fort Worth. The facility is tentatively scheduled to open in January.

Existing DPS offices will remain open -- including those in Arlington, Hurst, Lake Worth and southwest Fort Worth. All the offices will continue to issue new and renewed driver's licenses, commercial licenses, identification cards and parent-taught driver certificates.

But while Tarrant County motorists may still go to whichever DPS office they choose, agency officials hope they'll be drawn to the new megacenter in east Fort Worth, where the emphasis will be on the use of technology to speed up the customer flow.

"Megacenters are not intended to replace existing offices," said Katherine Cesinger, a DPS spokeswoman in Austin. "Rather, the goal is to ease demand within these regions by increasing capacity to serve the growing population in Texas. Each megacenter will be larger than a typical office and will employ at least 25 people. Megacenters will also feature expanded parking and will utilize technology and online scheduling to expedite transactions and enhance customer service."

North Texas will get two new DPS offices -- the one in east Fort Worth, and another in Garland, scheduled to open in September. Similar offices are being built in Austin, Houston and San Antonio.

The work is made possible by a $63 million infusion from the state Legislature; lawmakers say one of the most common complaints they hear from constituents is the long process and bureaucratic obstacles involved in getting a license.

While other state agencies are cutting programs and laying off employees, the DPS is planning to use its funding boost to build the new megacenters, install new equipment and technology, give raises to employees and hire more workers.

The agency issues about 6 million licenses a year.

Today, at the Hurst DPS office, it's not uncommon for a renewal to take several hours. The office is one of the busiest in the state, handling up to 500 customers a day, trooper Lonny Haschel said.

On Wednesday morning, a light rain fell as 68 people queued up outside the building before its 8 a.m. opening. Several people held umbrellas and sat in folding chairs. A few smoked cigarettes.

Behind Howell was a student from Central High School in the Keller district waiting to take her first road test.

Several others were new residents from out of state who said they were making a return trip to the office in attempts to meet tedious requirements for obtaining a Texas license.

Bobby McAdams, 55, of Hurst recently moved back to Texas after living in South Carolina. McAdams, who had been waiting in his car since about 6 a.m. for the office to open, said he had made three previous trips to the office and -- after a lengthy wait each time -- was turned away because he didn't have proper documentation.

After a third trip, he went to Waxahachie to get a copy of his original birth certificate. "Hopefully," he said, "my fourth time will be the right time."

Richard Smith, 47, a retired cable company employee who recently moved to Hurst from California, was making his third attempt to get a Texas license. He said the previous visits took several hours each, and his frustration was compounded by the rudeness of a front-desk employee.

Like several other people in line, Smith said any new approach to licensing would be an improvement.

"I'm new to the state," he said. "Just show me what I need to do. I want to do the right thing, and it's taking me two weeks."

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

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