ST. PAUL — Minnesota may soon allow motorists to schedule their written driving knowledge tests ahead of time instead of offering them on a first-come, first-served basis, which could cut down on the long wait times some state Department of Vehicles Service office locations are seeing in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Plans to offer knowledge test scheduling are still being finalized, DVS spokesperson Megan Leonard said. It is not immediately clear when they will be put into action.
The move could come as relief to critics of the DVS's customer service as of late. The department is currently working reschedule and administer a backlog of road tests that were cancelled when the coronavirus outbreak prompted the closure of its exam centers, only 14 of which have reopened statewide, and deal with a pent-up demand for written knowledge tests.
And as a result of the closures, some license seekers have reportedly been forced to drive out of their way to just to reach their nearest exam center.
"Our only option now is Bemidji, or if you can’t get a test in Bemidji, it’s further away than that," City of Roseau community development director Todd Peterson said.
But the DVS does appear to be making progress toward its goal of vanquishing the road test backlog. Plans to step up staffing levels that department officials detailed to lawmakers recently appear to be working, with the 14 open stations averaging 630 road tests a day since late May.
Compared to that same time last year, Leonard said, the department's 90-odd exam stations completed an average of 566.
What's frustrates local officials, however, is an apparent lack of communication concerning the eventual reopening of stations closer to their communities. DVS officials told lawmakers last month they may reopen other exam centers later this summer but did not offer up a timeline.
"Nobody has told us what the plan is for ever opening," Peterson said, meaning Roseau residents will have to drive two-hours away to Bemidji for license services for the foreseeable future.
Because the backlog consists of commercial driver's licenses as well, said Wright County Commissioner Darek Vetsch, it is taking a toll on rural transit systems. Prospective bus drivers have had to wait so long for their tests that they sometimes move on to other job opportunities.
The recent customer service issues have highlighted what some say is a need for private competition. License tests are offered only at state-owned testing stations, while DVS deputy registrar offices — where Minnesotans can renew their licenses and vehicle registrations, among other things — are independently owned and operated.
"I think privatization should be looked at, and looked at hard," said Kevin Rany, a city councilman in Owatonna, where a testing site closed several years ago.
Only three testing sites closed in Minnesota since 2010, Leonard said: sites in Owatonna, Elk River and Sandstone. The DVS later opened a testing site in Moose Lake to replace Sandstone's.