The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles is hiring scores of new staff, expanding office hours, opening on Saturdays and even shipping workers from its headquarters in Albany to Long Island to help reduce long lines created by a new law making driver's licenses available to immigrants living in the country illegally.
The department has hired a total of 320 new employees, including some in preparation for the program, and is continuing to recruit more staff, including through a job fair it held this week in Massapequa, said DMV spokeswoman Lisa Koumjian.
“We’ve seen a big impact already,” she said. “We truly are doing everything we possibly can. … We understand nobody wants to be standing outside in the cold for hours.”
Advocates gave mixed reviews, with some seeing improvements in some offices while long lines persisted in others.
Since the so-called Green Light Law went into effect Dec. 16, DMV offices on Long Island and elsewhere have been overwhelmed with crowds of immigrants seeking driver's licenses. Some arrive as early as 4 a.m.
Some DMV offices have shut down the lines by noon, telling new arrivals the office would not be able to accommodate them that day, and to go home and make an appointment.
“The crowds we are seeing are truly unprecedented,” Koumjian said. The DMV is now handling about triple the number of applications it typically does this time of year, she added.
The long waits have impacted not just immigrants.
The DMV has opened on Saturdays for appointments at seven of its busiest locations, including Garden City and Medford on Long Island, Koumjian said. That practice could expand to other offices. The DMV statewide has already handled several thousand customers on Saturdays, Koumjian said.
The department is also opening all Long Island and New York City offices an hour early, at 7:30 a.m., she said.
Of the 320 new hires, 270 were dispatched to DMV offices in New York City and Long Island, she said. All Long Island offices have some of the new staff. Officials said they expect to hire at least 100 more people.
Some employees from DMV's Albany headquarters have relocated to Long Island and New York City to pitch in, Koumjian said.
The department this week started giving people on line tickets with an exact time when they will be served.
“They can go get lunch. They can go run to the store, run an errand … and then they come back to the office at their allotted time and they can get service right away,” Koumjian said.
Advocacy groups welcomed the changes, though they had varying assessments about their effect.
“We’re definitely seeing the impact” at the Medford and Riverhead offices, said Patrick Young of the New York Immigration Coalition, who this week met with advocacy groups whose workers were active at those two offices.
“We were surprised that the overall impression” is that “things have been improving,” he said. “The folks on the ground felt that the DMV was really making a very strong effort in those two offices.”
But Eliana Fernandez of the Brentwood-based nonprofit Make the Road New York said the lines on Monday at the Hauppauge and Massapequa offices were just as bad as they were in December, although there seemed to be better organization.
Victoria Hernandez of Patchogue-based Sepa Mujer welcomed the DMV’s efforts, though she too said lines were still long at some offices.
“We are happy because it’s going to be less people waiting outside with this weather," she said. “It’s really cold.”
The department is encouraging customers to make a reservation online to reduce their waiting time, especially those needing a license test. They can do so at: dmv.ny.gov/reservation.
Koumjian said that besides more staff and longer operating hours, “we reconfigured our office space to add work stations and converted flex space, like conference rooms, to permit testing rooms to maximize the amount of customers we can serve at one time.”
The department also has purchased document authentication devices to help expedite license and permit transactions.