Long lines at driver’s license station, broken text alert service frustrate Mission customers

Leah Wankum - July 12, 2018 10:55 am
Mission driver license office
Longer wait lines at the Kansas Driver License office in Mission are frustrating customers this summer.

Kansas drivers are getting frustrated with unusually long lines this summer at the Kansas Department of Revenue driver’s license offices — and it doesn’t appear any quick fixes are coming.

Officials say the long lines are not just because of the summer season, which is typically busier because teenagers are taking driver’s education and getting their licenses. Driver’s license offices in Johnson County, including the office at 6507 Johnson Drive in Mission, are implementing processes required by the Real ID Act, which causes longer processing times for customers. Compounding problems is a broken text-alert system.

The Kansas Department of Revenue implemented changes to its scheduling system that required temporarily removing text alert capabilities, said Rachel Whitten, director of public relations at the Kansas Department of Revenue.

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Without the texting service, drivers must physically wait at the license office to check in and stay notified of their wait time.

Customers must still check in online before they arrive for appointments at certain locations, including Mission — but they also have to check in again when they arrive at the license office, Whitten said.

“What we’ve been seeing — and this is where so much of the frustration is, and it’s totally understandable — [is that] in between the time you checked in online and you go into the office to check in, the office has reached capacity,” Whitten said. “So that’s why some people are being turned away, even after they’ve checked in online.

Whitten said the department was working to educate drivers about the need to check in when they arrived.

“It’s so important that you check in once you get to the office,” she said. “You have to check in [in person] in order to get served; it’s not enough just to check in on the mobile.”

Some customers at the Mission station expressed frustration Wednesday afternoon because of the lack of explanation for the long lines. Laura Oliver, an Overland Park resident, said she had been waiting for 50 minutes of the two-and-a-half hour wait workers estimated when she walked in the door to renew her driver’s license. Oliver said she checked in online, ahead of time, which staff said had “probably saved” her 30 minutes.

“But I didn’t sign up as early as I could have; I signed up at 11 (a.m.),” Oliver said, adding that staff had told her they recommend signing up at 7 a.m.

Text alert system problems irritate customers

Statehouse officials have started hearing more complaints from constituents about the problems.

Sen. Majority Leader Jim Denning of Overland Park sent a long message to members of the Johnson County statehouse delegation Wednesday explaining what he’d learned about the causes of the long lines.

The text alerts program, called the Q-Flow texting system, has “system problems as well as staff training problems,” Denning wrote. The Q-Flow texting program does not automatically integrate with the on-site scheduling system at each office, he added.

“Q-Flow is not performing as intended,” Denning wrote. “I have recommended they punt it.”

The lack of text alerts was a major irritant to some of those forced to wait in line. Oliver, the Overland Park resident, said she recalls spending just 10 minutes at the license office a few years ago because she received text alerts.

“It didn’t feel inconvenient at all because they kept you apprised,” Oliver said. “And I thought that’s what they would do today, but they didn’t do that at all.”

While the texting service is not currently active, Whitten said the department is in touch with its vendor to find a way to make the system work “as best as it possibly can.”

“The Division of Vehicles is very regretful about the fact that we are experiencing long lines and we’re doing everything we can to mitigate the problem as much as possible,” Whitten said, adding that extra staff has been sent to work at the Mission and Olathe offices to accommodate the large influx of customers this summer.

Real ID act changes lengthen processing times

Another factor adding time to each customer is the launch of Real ID Act in Kansas, which went into effect Aug. 1, 2017, Whitten added.

For Kansas drivers to obtain a Real ID-approved license, they must provide additional documentation: a birth certificate or valid U.S. passport, and social security card. And, if the name listed on the birth certificate or passport is different, customers must also provide proof of the legal name change, such as a marriage license, divorce decree or court order for a name change.

Whitten said that as the public becomes more aware of Real ID, “that should help” reduce wait times.

No “quick resolution” coming

In his email to statehouse officials, Denning said there is “not going to be a quick resolution” to the long lines, adding that the Department of Revenue “did not anticipate the summer volume” in Johnson County.

“JoCo processes about 27 percent of all transactions in the state,” Denning wrote. “They did not staff up for the summer volume and now are very behind the curve.”

Denning said the Department of Revenue has hired four additional staff members and is also looking for additional staff to run the offices on Mondays this summer. Johnson County may also have a third office by next summer, Denning said.

“The system is broken and very strained,” he added. “Secretary [Sam] Williams is committed to getting KDOR back on track and servicing the citizens.”

Checking in online as early as possible appears to be the best bet for beating the crowd. For example, one man said Wednesday he waited at the license office in Mission for only a few minutes before his number was called because he had checked in online at about 7 a.m.

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