Hoffman's Houston
smaller town, shorter wait?

Ken Hoffman stumbles onto a Texas DPS license renewal myth

Ken Hoffman stumbles onto a Texas DPS license renewal myth

people standing in line waiting in line office
Smaller Texas towns should have less wait times than bigger ones...right? Photo by Tom Merton/Getty Images

Reader Diana Tidwell asks, “Didn’t you write about speedily renewing your driver’s license? Where did you go?” Don’t ask me, Diana. I’ve had to visit a driver’s license office twice in recent years and neither time was speedy.

I can’t tell you where to go. But I can tell you where it feels like I’ve been … hell. 

Last year, I picked one of the so-called “Mega Centers” in Houston because I figured it would be mega-efficient. I got there an hour before opening time, and the line already was wrapped around the building. When they finally called my number, I asked the clerk, “Ever have any famous people come up to your counter?”

He said yes, a certain big name TV preacher.  Really? Does he sit out there in the corral on those uncomfortable chairs like a normal person? The clerk said oh no, “we take him to the back to do his paperwork.”

Funny, the DPS is more hospitable than he is

A few weeks ago, I lost my driver’s license in New York City. I had to call home and have my passport Fed-Exed to my hotel so I could get on a plane back to Houston. In order to get a replacement license, you have to show up at a DPS office.

Here we go again. At least not to the place where certain people don’t have to wait like the rest of us.

Myth or real: Smaller town, shorter wait?
A light bulb went off: I was spending a few days in Lago Vista, near Lake Travis in Hill Country. There’s a driver’s license office in Marble Falls, about 30 miles west. Marble Falls’ population is 6,495.

There’s more people than that in line at the Chick-fil-A on Bellaire Boulevard.

I figured, I’ll drive to Marble Falls in the morning, pop In-N-Out (there’s one on Highway 1431) of the DPS and be back by lunch. Marble Falls was founded on July 12, 1887 by Confederate General Adam R. “Stovepipe” Johnson. You find me a city founded by someone with a better nickname than that.

Fun facts about Marble Falls: In 1917 the good people of Marble Falls elected the first female mayor in Texas, Ophelia “Birdie” Harwood. This was three years before women were granted the right to vote. Former University of Texas at El Paso basketball coach George McCarty was born in Marble Falls. McCarty coached at UTEP (then called Texas Western College) from 1953 to 1959. He was the first coach to recruit an African-American player there. In 1966, under coach Don Haskins, Texas Western won the NCAA title with five African-Americans in the starting lineup.

Slow times in Marble Falls
The Marble Falls driver’s license office is at 1405 Mormon Mill Rd. From the outside, the nondescript building looks like an abandoned Big Lots store. Inside? Crammed to the walls, every seat taken, standing room only, except for a few people sitting on the floor.

I took a number like at Schnitzer’s Bakery and checked the tote board to see what number they were on.

Uh-oh, this was going to be a long, long wait.

I left the office, walked down the block to Whataburger, had a Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit and Diet Coke, answered some emails, played Trivia 360 on my phone, walked back to the DPS building, and the number had barely budged. That’s because there were only three windows open at the counter. Back in Lago Vista for lunch? Better start making dinner plans.

You can’t win with these DPS offices. The line at DPS in small town Marble Falls was no shorter than in Houston, population 2.3 million. At least in Marble Falls, there’s a Whata within walking distance. There’s a reason that everybody hates these overcrowded, understaffed holding pens, and comedians make a career of DPS bits.

Certain DPS offices allow people to “get in line online.” You can make an appointment on the DPS website and fast pass the huddled masses yearning to renew their licenses. Unfortunately, “get in line online” was “currently unavailable” the day I went to Marble Falls.

A faster solution
Simple solution all this mess: hire more people to work the counters at driver’s license offices. There were four windows in Marble Falls, only three open. There were 53 windows at the Mega Center in Houston, it looked like only half open.

Let’s get every window open for business. That would create more jobs, a good thing, right? Plus it would increase overall productivity because people wouldn’t have to take off work to sit hours in these red tape prisons. And let’s keep these offices open till 10 pm weeknights, and all day on weekends. And fix the websites so that “get in line online” works.

Win-win-win. Vote for me.

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