By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
At Santa Rosa’s DMV office on Monday, heavy sighs and chain smoking in an outdoor courtyard spoke to the frustration of waiting in a long line for help.
“It’s horrible,” said Sebastopol resident Amy Contardi, who spent a minute at the service counter taking care of her lost car registration after she waited for an hour just to get to that point.
Contardi might have trouble believing it, but wait times at the Corby Avenue office show modest signs of improving, following a period in which the lines seemed to be growing longer by the month.
For example, 14 percent of customers last month waited more than an hour. That was down from almost 16 percent of customers during the same month in 2009, according to DMV records.
That’s a modest decrease representing 152 customers. It’s also a far cry from September 2008, when only 6 percent of customers waited for more than an hour at the Santa Rosa office.
But it’s better than the alternative.
Jan Mendoza, a DMV spokeswoman, said the improved wait times reflect the end of furloughs that closed offices statewide for three Fridays out of every month. The last furlough day was Sept. 17.
She said employees no longer have to try and cram five days worth of work into four days three weeks out of the month.
It remains to be seen whether the wait times will continue to improve.
The number of customers who waited more than 30 minutes at the Corby Avenue office actually grew by a modest 2 percent last month — 51 percent compared with 49 percent in November 2009.
Two customers waited for more than 2 hours last month, compared to none in 2009.
But some customers on Monday said they’ve noticed a difference for the better.
“It seems pretty dead in there right now,” said Austin Browder of Santa Rosa, who accompanied a friend who was transferring the title on a car Monday.
Mendoza said many customers still do not realize that many DMV services are available online, including renewing driver’s licenses and vehicle registration.
Customers also can monitor wait times for DMV offices or make appointments through their computers.
The DMV currently is experiencing a 6-week backlog issuing new driver’s licenses, which have been re-designed with enhanced security features.
Mendoza blamed those delays on manufacturing problems that have resulted in some licenses having to be redone.
That can be a problem for people whose license has expired or is about to expire.
Mendoza said that a record of renewal fees paid by mail or online is entered into a state law enforcement computer within a week. If paid at a DMV field office, the record is posted within a day.
Police officers can check that database to verify that the payment has been made, Mendoza said.