Minnesotans would pay more for renewing their driver's licenses but would keep them twice as long under changes that would made to make it easier for residents to get their credentials while reducing the workload and stress on Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services employees and contractors who process applications.
Deputy Registrar offices would receive a cut of the filing fees Minnesotans pay when completing tab renewals by mail or online, and potential drivers would have fewer places to take exams, though fewer people would need to take them. Those are among the 31 suggestions to improve customer service and reliability outlined in a mandated review of the division that was released Thursday.
"This report is monumental," said Rep. John Petersburg, R-Waseca, who serves on the House Transportation Committee. "This report actually suggests we change the philosophy and culture of customer service in public agencies and entities. This is an example that government needs to start understanding that we need to be responsive to the customer [taxpayer]."
The Legislature ordered the report after the Office of the Legislative Auditor in 2021 found long waits for driver's license road tests and limited exam locations meant that DVS was violating state law. The order specifically called for an independent review team to look at operations at deputy registrar's offices and at the state's 92 exam stations.
Five of the suggestions in the Independent Review of Driver and Vehicle Services report are aimed at supporting deputy registrar offices, many of which operate as independent contractors for the state. The report suggests expanding their ability to provide customer service over the phone, process requests for driving records and crash reports, and be able to take boating license applications, which are currently handled by the Department of Natural Resources.
The biggest change would be that the offices would receive 25% to 50% of all filing fees, not just those collected during in-person transactions. Many deputy registrars have dropped driver's license services because of costs, and some like Bloomington have closed altogether as many transactions have shifted online. Hennepin County spends $2.5 million to subsidizes its deputy registrars while Washington County spends $500,000 to $1.5 million a year, said Rep. Steve Elkins, DFL-Bloomington.
"If we don't provide greater financial assistance, the offices will drop like flies," he said. The offices are needed, he said, especially with a crush expected ahead of a May deadline to get a Real ID. Those licenses must be applied for in person.
By sharing filing fees, the goal is to have more registrars become full service operations, Elkins said.
The committee's report also suggested extending the length a driver's license is valid from four to eight years. Fourteen states already do that, the report said. It also proposes allowing residents renewing their licenses to do it online and dropping the requirement that people 21 and older who move to Minnesota take a written test.
"You take out some of the work," said Rick King, chairman of the four-member Independent Expert Review team.
The report also suggests that DVS operate only 40 to 50 exam stations and find ways to reduce the number of people who need to retake exams, which adds to the work load and contributes to long waits for openings.
"Now we have a report with specific recommendations, that the Legislature and the Department of Public Safety can take a look at and try to improve the services for the people of State of Minnesota," said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. "It is going to directly affect a lot of people."