The only driver’s license office in Downtown Dallas has closed, potentially adding to long lines at other license offices. This comes after DPS told NBC 5 Investigates there were no plans to close any DFW offices.
There is more frustration for North Texans trying to renew their driver’s licenses. The busy Department of Public Safety license office inside Dallas City Hall has shut down. Only an empty counter and some old computer wires remain after the DPS quietly moved out in mid-December.
Just last summer the top DPS official in charge of the Texas license offices told NBC 5 Investigates there were no plans to close any locations in the DFW area, as the DPS tries to reduce long lines and wait times that can last three hours or more especially during the busy summer months.
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“We're not closing any offices. We are opening brand new. We are expanding our capacity to be able to serve that demand,” said Rebecca Davio, director of the DPS License Division in an interview in July, 2012.
Davio was describing a multi-million-dollar DPS plan to open two new Dallas-Fort Worth license Mega Centers, one in Garland and one in Fort Worth. The agency said the two giant facilities would only add to the current locations in an effort to cut wait times at all of the exiting offices.
So what changed? Why would DPS close a busy license office when it’s already struggling to keep up with demand?
DPS tells us it had no plans to leave Dallas City Hall. Instead, the City of Dallas kicked them out.
"The decision was not a mutual one. The city expressly asked DPS to leave the premises in October. DPS had no plans to vacate the facility,” said DPS spokesperson Tom Vinger.
City of Dallas spokesman Frank Librio responded saying, "We really never had adequate space for them to conduct their operations." He described the office as "inadequate and overcrowded."
Because of new security measures in the works at City Hall, Librio said the city wanted to clear out the space. He points out DPS is free to lease another office anywhere in downtown Dallas.
So far DPS has not done that.
But in an interview Thursday, DPS Director Steve McCraw said the agency will pull together money to open a new downtown Dallas location.
“Because of some of the savings we achieved in some other areas, we are going to prioritize a Dallas office in the downtown area and a Houston office in the downtown area because we've demonstrated the numbers need it”, McCraw said.
DPS had plans to ask the legislature for millions of dollars to create new downtown offices in Dallas and Houston. However, McCraw said the agency has decided to move ahead using existing funds instead.
Until DPS can find a new location, Downtown Dallas does not have a single driver’s license office.
The office at City Hall used to serve an average of 180 customers a day, or about 45,000 customers last year alone, according to DPS records.
When NBC 5 Investigates visited that office over the summer we found it was so crowded people were sitting on the floor, some waiting for hours.
Since the City Hall location closed, a steady stream of customers continues to stop by during the day, surprised to find it’s gone.
To get to the next closest DPS office they have to get on Interstate 35 and drive 10 miles south to Red Bird Lane, a trip that takes about 14 minutes each way if there’s no traffic.
“It is an inconvenience, you know. It's a waste of time and waste of bus fare," said Tobi Hicks who travelled to the City Hall office only to find it closed.
“You have to come down here waste gas and then go somewhere else I guess,” said customer Emmanuel Dotson.
DPS hopes many customers will go to the new Garland Mega Center – which opened in December and is designed to handle 900 transactions every day above and beyond what the existing offices can handle. Now some of that new capacity will be taken up by thousands of customers who used to go to City Hall.
DPS is banking on the Mega Centers to reduce the long lines at all of the license offices. But the DFW population is growing fast and now the agency has lost an office in Dallas. The Investigative Team will be watching over the spring and summer to see how well the Mega Centers really help improve wait times.
The new Mega Center in Fort Worth on Brentwood Stair Road opened Feb. 1.