Oklahomans’ expectations should be high when it comes to driver’s license services 

Millions of dollars later, the line still starts in the middle of the night

September 15, 2023 5:29 am
Pictured is a red brick building with a Service Oklahoma sign in front

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)

After years of promised fixes, Oklahoma’s state-run driver’s license program remains broken.

Perhaps nothing illustrates that as clearly as the fact that Oklahomans are having to get in line at 1 a.m. just to obtain a basic driver’s license replacement.

On a recent morning, reporter Carmen Forman encountered Tim Hartshorn, a 66-year-old Oklahoma City resident. The day before, he had waited for five hours at a Service Oklahoma office, but still wasn’t served. Needing a license, he waited up all night, sitting on hard concrete.

And, even as the sun began to rise, there were already 30 people in line behind him.

For years now, lawmakers have promised Oklahomans that they’d solve the problems plaguing the state’s driver’s license system.

They created a new agency — Service Oklahoma — in an effort to streamline the process. They’ve opened megacenters. They’ve tried fee-based appointment reservation systems. They’ve pumped more money into programs.

But still Oklahomans struggle to access driver’s licenses — a basic necessity to function.

Service Oklahoma CEO Jay Doyle told Forman that “managing public expectations” has been one of the hardest parts. He said that people expected Service Oklahoma to make all licensing and motor vehicle issues perfect.

Perfection is a reasonable expectation when it comes to something this simple that officials have been working to improve for years.

Oklahomans have been more than patient. Of course they expect easy and convenient access to basic, required services. And, of course, they’re growing impatient. After all, nobody should have to wait for hours or face monthslong backlogs when navigating a core government service. 

Something remains broken with Oklahoma’s system. Residents in other states don’t seem to be facing the same long-term struggles.

The backlog was so acute in 2021, that state leaders spent $6.6 million to open “megacenters” to help Oklahomans struggling to update or renew licenses.

At the time, many Oklahomans faced monthslong waits just to access driver’s license services. Some residents were driving over two hours away to more rural areas in order to obtain their state-issued licenses. That in turn limited access for residents in local communities.

Some of the headache was initially blamed on Oklahoma’s lack of preparedness to handle the influx of federally compliant Real ID license requests. The state was among the last to begin issuing those licenses, which in May 2025 will be required to fly domestically, enter military installations or other federal buildings. 

Delays were also blamed on COVID-19 and an inability to provide enough Real ID systems, software and computers to handle a predictable spike in demand. Budget cuts also impacted the state’s ability to hire enough workers.

But that was two years ago.

Here we are again in a very similar situation.

Rep. Dell Kerbs, R-Shawnee, says change isn’t easy. And it’s not.

Kudos to Service Oklahoma for attempting to make improvements that include beefing up call center operations, expanding access to online services and plans to hire additional employees. They’re also trying pilot programs.

But, the improvements aren’t coming fast enough for Oklahomans.

We’re counting on the Legislature to finally get this right and drive Oklahoma’s licensing programs forward in a sustainable way that serves all residents.

Residents should demand perfection. And, they deserve it.


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Janelle Stecklein
Janelle Stecklein

Janelle Stecklein is editor of Oklahoma Voice. An award-winning journalist, Stecklein has been covering Oklahoma government and politics since moving to the state in 2014.