Scott Friedman, NBC 5 Investigates
DPS plans to implement touch-screen check-in at its license offices, but the commissioners that oversee the agency raised questions about company the agency wants to hire.
A plan to shorten the miserable lines at the Texas driver license offices came under fire Wednesday at a Public Safety Commission meeting in Austin.
Commissioners ultimately a deal for touch-screen check-in machines at license offices should move forward, but several commissioners raised red flags and asked that contingencies be put in place in case future problems arise.
The Public Safety Commission oversees the Texas Department of Public Safety.
An NBC 5 investigation revealed that wait times at driver license offices are even worse than the state reports in the numbers it gathers. Some customers wait hours just to get in the front door.
Indiana eliminated its long lines with tools that include using touch-screen machines for check-in. People immediately get a number instead of waiting to reach someone at a check-in desk. The machines also let the state measure how long people are really waiting so they can better plan how to reduce wait times.
PSC commissioners said they were worried about the proposed contract with California company QLess for touch screens because the company has been incorporated for only three years and has just 35 employees.
“This seems like a really small company to take on something of this magnitude,” Commissioner John Steen said.
The contract could be worth $1.3 million.
“I'm very nervous," Commissioner Carin Marcy Barth said. "I want to go on record saying that I am very concerned with respect to a company this size tackling the magnitude of our queuing situation."
Commissioners were told Kansas is the only other state that uses QLess statewide.
During the meeting, DPS staff admitted that no one from the agency had been to Kansas to see how the system works there and that they have not met the two people who own the company.
“In the private sector, someone might think about going on a plane and going out to California," Steen. "You can learn a lot by meeting with the people."
Commissioners expressed concern that the company may not have the manpower to help a state with 26 million people if the new system has glitches.
“That's a pretty big step to go from Kansas to Texas,” Steen said. “We don't want to let the sense of urgency push us into something that might cause us even more problems down the road."
But QLess CEO and founder Alex Däcker told the NBC 5 Investigates team that his company could handle the job. QLess already does a lot of work for states and major companies with millions of customers, he said.
"Customers are extremely happy," he said. "It's like night and day. The testimonials about our support are even better than for the system. We're very excited to help the people of Texas."
Steve McCraw, DPS director, argued that the contract needs to move forward because QLess has cutting-edge technology. Its system even allows people to check in using their cellphone so they can wait at home and know what time they need to show up.
“We have also an opportunity for great reward if we can employ these types of technologies,” he said.
Commissioners asked staff to come up with contingency plans in case problems pop up.
“We just have to have a backup plan and a very quick backup plan,” Barth said.
McCraw told NBC 5 Investigates that the Dallas-Fort Worth area would not see the new check-in system until two license "megacenters" open early next year.
There is no date yet on when DPS would install touch-screen check-in at existing offices in North Texas until the agency sees how they work in the megacenters.