COVID-19 and Virginia's Dept. of Motor Vehicles

Jul 24, 2020

Before the pandemic, the Department of Motor Vehicles was the poster child for a slow-moving bureaucracy.

Remember waiting in those long lines at the DMV? Finally making your way into the waiting room and then waiting around for your number to be called? Well forget about that in the age of COVID. The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles has moved to an appointment-only model in a limited number of locations. Getting an appointment can take more than a month.

“When you’re trying to sell a vehicle and you have a buyer available, you can’t just take their cash and not give them a title," says Christine Cunningham of Bedford. After a long and frustrating experience she finally got an appointment. 40 miles away. In late August.

The Virginia DMV is encouraging citizens to conduct as much business as they can online.

“They have no obligation to have excellent customer service because we have no choice," explains Cunningham. "We can’t just say, ‘We’re going to take our money elsewhere. We are going to go to a different DMV. We’re going to go to a different business.’ It gives us a very powerless feeling and it’s very frustrating.”

DMV Commissioner Richard Holcome says offices are reopening, and most of them are now up and running. So, he says, that should help out with the lag time. He also says the appointment-only system is here to stay indefinitely. 

“Gone are the days where we would invite a customer and 200 of their best friends into a lobby, ask them to sit shoulder to shoulder waiting a couple of hours to be called to the window to do a transaction,” Holcome says.

Holcome says before you make an appointment, make sure the transaction can’t be done online. Also, he says, many people end up making multiple appointments — sometimes at multiple locations — then appear at only one and leave the others on the schedule, clogging up the system.

A DMV spokesperson added that the type of transaction and the demand at each location also affect the wait time for an appointment.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.