Newsday reporter Bart Jones, outside the Department of Motor Vehicles in Medford on Friday, talks about steps the DMV is taking to improve service amid long lines at its offices. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang / Barry Sloan

The Department of Motor Vehicles announced early last month that it was taking steps to improve service amid long lines at its offices, but many customers said the agency has not done enough.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Patricia Paul, who was at the DMV office in Hauppauge last week trying — for a second day — to get her 16-year-old son his driver’s permit.

DMV workers seem “like chickens running around with their heads cut off. Nobody knows what they are doing. It’s a hot mess,” she added.

Paul said she tried to get into the office a few days earlier but could not because of the lines. The lines started increasing about six weeks ago, after the state granted immigrants in the country illegally the right to obtain driver’s licenses.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and lawmakers argued the new Green Light Law will make the roads safer. As many as 80,000 people statewide, including 30,000 on Long Island, are believed to be among the newly eligible immigrants who can obtain licenses under that law.

DMV officials said last week that their efforts to speed up the lines are having an impact. The agency has hired 400 additional employees statewide — including some before the immigrant license program went into effect — to help with the crush of customers, said Lisa Koumjian, a spokeswoman for the DMV.

The agency said it has opened some offices for appointments on Saturdays, and opened some offices as early as 7:30 a.m. on weekdays.

A sign near the entrance to the Medford DMV encourages...

A sign near the entrance to the Medford DMV encourages patrons to take care of their license and registration renewals online on Tuesday. Credit: Barry Sloan

“Extended office hours and Saturday appointments have reduced the wait for most customers, and we continue to add Saturday appointments, serving approximately 3,000 customers on Saturdays,” Koumjian said.

The DMV also has added new signs, developed informational flyers and extended its outreach to customers to expedite visits, schedule appointments, or offer them return tickets for a time later in the day so they do not have to wait in line, she said.

Customers also can handle DMV transactions online — something the agency is encouraging people to do, Koumjian said. They are urging people to make a reservation online at https://dmv.ny.gov/reservation.

But tempers flared briefly outside the Medford office Tuesday when one customer yelled at security guards as she waited.

People wait in line outside the Medford Department of Motor...

People wait in line outside the Medford Department of Motor Vehicles office Tuesday. Credit: Barry Sloan

“We should be allowed in here. It’s cold out here,” said June Titus Wolters, a Ronkonkoma resident who was there with her 21-year-old son to renew his license.

Chris Gorecki, 50, a truck driver also from Ronkonkoma, went to the Garden City DMV on Jan. 24 thinking he would be in and out fairly quickly to register a car. When he got there and was handed a ticket with a number on it, he found out he would be waiting at least four hours before his number would be called.

“I’m very mad. I took the day off. I thought I was going to do something around the house,” he said. Instead, “It’s all day in the DMV.”

Some customers said they have seen improvements.

“It went well, considering how many people were inside,” Linda Maczkiewicz, 67, said last week at the Medford office, where she and her husband, Gunther, 69, had gone to obtain enhanced licenses. “I expected much worse.”

The Ronkonkoma couple had an appointment, and said they were done within an hour, even though there was a long line outside when they arrived.

Another customer, Rebecca Curra, 44, of Coram, also said her appointment to return license plates went fairly swiftly, though she wasn’t sure if she got special treatment because she had a therapy dog with her. “They were very nice,” she said. “They let me in.”

Others were not as pleased.

Lisa Romanelli of Atlantic Beach said she expected a far shorter wait at Garden City. She wasn’t sure whether to sit around and wait for her number to be called, or take off and come back later.

“They have you trapped,” she said. “You either go with it or you leave and come back.”

Joseph Lore, 26, of Oceanside, said it took him visits on three days to get a vehicle registered, including a five-hour wait the first day. On Jan. 24, he finally achieved his goal at the Bethpage office.

“When your number is called,” he said, “you feel like you won the lottery.”

Gabriela Tapia, 32, of Patchogue, said she went to three DMV offices — Port Jefferson, Riverhead and Medford — last week, but the waiting times of three hours or more were so long that she gave up. She returned to Medford at a later date to do what she could.

“I am happy that my immigrant people are getting their licenses,” Tapia said. But “this is kind of like getting out of hand, because a lot of people are waiting hours just to return a plate or just get a replacement license — regular stuff.”

“It’s crazy,” she added. “It’s ridiculous.”

Tapia said the DMV should designate one office on Long Island where immigrants go for the licenses, and let the other offices function normally.

One person, who drove to Long Island from Manhattan and waited in line, has a problem with those here illegally getting licenses.

“People who don’t belong here shouldn’t be getting licenses,” said Leonard Daniels, 55, who traveled to the DMV office in Bethpage on Jan. 24 because he thought it would be faster than one of the offices in Manhattan, where he lives.

Immigrant advocates said the situation is improving, with shorter lines and waiting periods, but is still far from perfect.

The additional staff at DMV “is helping a lot,” said Martha Maffei of Patchogue-based Sepa Mujer. The DMV is “trying to do [its] part."

Some immigrants are still arriving at 4 a.m. to get in line, and it easily can take three hours once inside the building to get their driver's permit if they don’t have an appointment, she said. Previously, the process could take five or six hours.

At the Riverhead office recently, there was a line of about 80 people outside, she said.

Another worker with the Sepa Mujer group, Paola Zuñiga, said about 65% of immigrants are still coming in as walk-ins, and only 35% with appointments.

Immigrant advocates said the new law was a good idea because it requires immigrants to pass the DMV written and road tests, resulting in better drivers on the roads, and also forces them to obtain insurance.

ABOUT THE GREEN LIGHT LAW

Beginning Dec. 14, immigrants illegally in New York State were able to obtain driver’s licenses.

  • The license does not identify the holder as an immigrant here illegally.
  • The license does not provide access to aircraft or federal facilities such as nuclear power plants. Beginning Oct. 1, all travelers on commercial aircraft, including domestic flights, will need identification that meets the federal REAL ID standards, which includes proof of U.S. citizenship or legal immigration status such as a permanent resident.
  • Many of the papers immigrants use to prove their identity will be destroyed by the state, under the law, to prohibit the federal government from using the records to seek immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

SOURCE: Newsday reporting

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