DMV wows 'em

It wows ’em. Literally. The glass double doors whooshed aside as another responsible, law-abiding citizen entered Sussex County’s gleaming new Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) facility in Georgetown. “Wow. I’m impressed,” she said. She wasn’t alone.

Coastal Point • SAM HARVEY: The lobby in the new DMV building offers plenty of seating for those waiting, and an impressive row of counter's.Coastal Point • SAM HARVEY
The lobby in the new DMV building offers plenty of seating for those waiting, and an impressive row of counter's.
“They’re overwhelmed. Stunned,” noted Georgetown Lane Manager Pamela Smith. “It was money well spent.” Things had definitely improved since the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) opened its new, $12.5-million facility last fall, she said.

“Employee morale is up, the customers are so much friendlier — less flustered, less aggressive,” Smith pointed out. “I think it helps that they get to enjoy the view and the overall atmosphere.”

As DelDOT spokesman Jason Gloeckler noted, the Dover DMV near his office doesn’t have all the design extras found at the Georgetown DMV. He noted the skylight-style windows high in the walls, bouncing natural light into the license and vehicle improvement sections, reducing the need for harsh fluorescence.

“We get people from south Dover who are willing to make the drive,” Smith said. Quite a dramatic reversal — before the new Georgetown facility appeared, residents of northern Sussex might have considered a trip to Dover more appealing.

“It was unpleasant,” Smith admitted. “And customers would take it out on the employees.”

At the old facility, until roughly nine years ago, driver’s license and driver improvement (revocations, suspensions) and vehicle improvements (titles, registration) were all housed in one building, she said.

However, Sussex population growth eventually pushed half of those services (driver’s license and driver improvements) outside, into what was supposed to be a temporary trailer. “That helped some, but it ended up being eight or nine years,” Smith pointed out.

By the end of that period, business had increased to the point that the trailer sometimes filled to its occupancy limits, and people had to wait outside on the entry ramp, she said. In bad weather, she pointed out, this meant customers either had to huddle under umbrellas or wait in their cars (and pop in occasionally, to see if a seat had opened or their number was about to come up).

“That’s one of the main reasons this was built,” Gloeckler acknowledged. “And to accommodate current and future growth.”

It seems unlikely that Smith and colleagues will have to set out the folding chairs at the new DMV anytime soon. The license and vehicle improvement section encompasses a vast area — many have likened it to an airport terminal, Smith noted.

Compared to the old facility, the atmosphere of the new DMV seems hushed (they’ve replace tile with carpet). Framed photographs depicting local scenery (mostly taken by DelDOT photographer Tim O’Brien) hang here and there, and a scrolling Motor Vehicle Network (MVN) news ticker noiselessly provides some of the day’s headlines.
Perhaps most important for visitors entering the new DMV is the reception desk just inside the front doors. Before, it was take a number, cross your fingers and hope you don’t eventually learn you’ve been waiting in the wrong line, when you reach the counter.

Now, a DMV staffer at the front desk points visitors in the right direction, and everyone gets a ticket with not only a number, but a letter. The letter matches up with the electronic ticker above the appropriate customer service station.

There’s another ticker just above the front desk, which lets visitors know just how long they can expect to wait for each particular service, before they ever sit down.

It seems to be pretty accurate, too — Delmar resident Edgar Calloway Sr. reached the counter in just about 35 minutes, the very time predicted on the ticker at the reception desk.

Calloway seemed a bit nonplussed by the grandeur. “It’s very impressive looking, but when there are only one or two stations open, it could still be a long time,” he said. “It’s not too impressive as far as how long it takes to get through.

“Thirty minute wait — same as it was at the old place,” Calloway pointed out.

Long Neck resident Ray Clark seconded that. “I’ve been here 20 minutes, and the sign (calling the next number) hasn’t changed,” he said.

However, he also said he’d come through to renew his registration a couple of months earlier, and things had moved very quickly on that visit.

Lewes resident Yara Rojas said she hoped the wait wouldn’t be too long, but either way, she was impressed with the new facility. “The first time I came, they saw me in a little trailer,” Rojas pointed out. “Two months later, this was already done. I like it. It’s really organized.”

Smith asked one of the employees to cut his lunch break short, come back and help alleviate the backup, and as soon as his window opened the wait time started dropping fast.

And there are a couple of additional improvements over practices people may remember.

People coming in for suspensions or revocations were somewhat pilloried, as they signed in and sat down to await their hearings — awkward for everyone in the room. They now have a separate waiting area.

And, though professional car dealers still get to cut to the head of the line, no one waiting for 30 minutes has to watch them do it anymore. DelDOT’s given them a separate entrance.

But all of this is inside the main building — there’s also a set of seven brand new inspection lanes, just outside.

As Gleockler pointed out, DelDOT has built a fair measure of excess capacity for Sussex to grow into. And the department has left room to build another two lanes, bringing the total to nine, to accommodate future growth, Smith added.

At least for now, (as is the case with the stations inside), only a few of the lanes are actually staffed.

“Depending on how busy we think we’re going to be we’ll open another lane, but you have to plan for it,” Smith pointed out. But staffing issues aside, she said the extra lanes always provided great back-ups, in case of software or equipment failures.

One of the lanes is always dedicated for re-checks. John Canderan of Rehoboth Beach, idling in that line with his 1947 Chevy Fleetline, seemed a little nervous about his chances.

And, he seemed a little nervous that his engine might overheat as he waited for a technician to return. But he was in good spirits again after clearing the re-check lane. “It passed,” he called, driving back around to the front of the building.

Canderan went inside to get his new registration sticker, but it isn’t actually necessary to do so, anymore. There’s now a two-lane drive-through window, for people with passenger cars (the lanes are too narrow for trucks or RVs). People can conduct their post-inspection business via intercom, and just drive away.

“In the time it takes to come through here (the drive-through), you couldn’t park your car, get out, walk into the building and take a number,” Smith smiled.

That’s good news for people who like to spend as little possible at the DMV — no matter how nice the new facility in Georgetown might be.

For more information on all of the services the Georgetown DMV has to offer (or to find out how much they’re going to charge), visit