Service Oklahoma focuses on hiring, new programs to reduce wait times
Lawmakers created Service Oklahoma to improve driver’s license and motor vehicle services
The Service Oklahoma headquarters on Classen Boulevard in Oklahoma City helps residents with driver’s license and motor vehicle services. (Photo by Carmen Forman/Oklahoma Voice)
OKLAHOMA CITY — Tim Hartshorn arrived at Service Oklahoma six hours before it opened, and as he sat on the concrete at the start of a growing line of people, he wished he had brought a camping chair.
The 66-year-old Oklahoma City resident needed to replace his lost driver’s license, and after waiting for five hours at the same location the day before, he wasn’t taking any chances.
So, he arrived at 1 a.m. As the sun started to rise, roughly 30 people were in line, with more arriving every few minutes.
Oklahoma lawmakers formed Service Oklahoma last year to streamline the process for Oklahomans to get driver’s licenses and other government-issued credentials, but lines and lengthy wait times plagued some locations this summer.
Officials say they are making a slew of changes and launching a number of pilot programs to improve customers’ in-person experience and make it easier for Oklahomans to get help online or over the phone.
Service Oklahoma is also adding more staff, exploring extended office hours and giving tag agencies additional resources to process driver’s licenses and Real IDs, all of which should help shorten lines and lessen wait times, said Service Oklahoma CEO Jay Doyle.
Hartshorn wasn’t bitter about his situation on a cool August morning. He praised the Service Oklahoma employees for deftly helping a deluge of customers.
When Service Oklahoma was formed by combining the parts of the Department of Public Safety and the Oklahoma Tax Commission that dealt with driver’s license and motor vehicle services, the new state entity was focused on avoiding any disruption in government services, Doyle said.
But in the months since, Service Oklahoma has begun making changes with its customers in mind, he said.
One of the hardest things, Doyle said, has been managing public expectations. People thought when Service Oklahoma took over license and motor vehicle services, everything would be perfect.
“There’s still a ton of work to do,” he said. “We’re not where we know we need to be when it comes to servicing our citizens.”
Service Oklahoma has beefed up its call center so now more than 80% of all driver’s license calls are answered. That figure used to hover around 6%, Doyle said.
Oklahomans can now get a handicap parking pass without ever having to step foot inside a government office building. An intuitive Real ID checklist on Service Oklahoma’s website makes it easier for Oklahomans to know what documents they need.
Online driver’s license renewals have been simplified, and more license services can be completed online, Doyle said.
The law creating Service Oklahoma formed a state board to license and oversee the state’s 240 tag agencies. That law also required all tag agencies to offer the same services, meaning all of them now have to issue driver’s licenses even if they didn’t before, Doyle said.
Service Oklahoma will also train tag agents on out-of-state license transfers. Tag agencies previously couldn’t issue Oklahoma licenses to people with out-of-state IDs.
The 70 most-trafficked locations will also get additional equipment so they can process more Real IDs, Doyle said.
Service Oklahoma is hiring 100 new driver’s license examiners and additional employees to staff its busiest locations. It also launched a pilot program with an Edmond driving school to streamline the process for teenagers to upgrade their driving permit to an intermediate license, Doyle said.
“I really think that we’re starting to make significant dents in what we’re doing, so once we get fully staffed in the next 60 days it is going to be huge for us,” he said.
When Service Oklahoma took over driver’s license services, it also scrapped an appointment-based system implemented by DPS that Doyle said was inflexible and inefficient.
Service Oklahoma plans to test a tool that will allow people to see in real time how long the wait is at certain locations. Similar to some restaurant reservation apps, people could also join the waitlist from home, he said.
Rep. Dell Kerbs, R-Shawnee, said the COVID pandemic and the state’s rollout of Real ID created a perfect storm that made it harder for Oklahomans to access government services. That’s when lawmakers decided to re-evaluate the state’s system for driver’s license and motor vehicle services, he said.
Kerbs authored the legislation creating Service Oklahoma. He praised the entity for testing new initiatives, saying it’s symbolic of a culture of thinking outside the box.
But change doesn’t come easy when you’re undoing government bureaucracy that was on autopilot for 20 years, he said.
“We’ve gotten outside of our comfort zone and complacency and started looking outside the box and figuring out how and what we can do to make the services better,” Kerbs said.
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