Long lines and wait times at the Texas driver's license offices continue, with appointments booked up for months.
But there's one alternative that thousands of people are desperate to try.
For months, people have been waiting outside some busy North Texas offices as early as 2 a.m. to snag the opportunity for a same-day standby appointment. The walk-ups are taken on a first-come, first-serve basis and are given out when booked appointment slots are canceled and become available each day.
Otherwise, if people book an appointment online, they might be waiting until early next year to be seen. That’s not an option for those who have recently moved to Texas, need a current license for work, or are driving with an expired license.
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"The first day I saw this long line I thought it was someone waiting in line for concert tickets,” said David Brownley, who spoke with NBC 5 this week as he waited outside the Carrollton Driver License Mega Center.
No concert. Just waiting. Brownley said he has done this recently before but this week, he was waiting in line for his daughter to hold a place for her.
“Because that's what dads do,” he said. “Get here at 4 a.m. in the morning with a lawn chair and a cup of coffee and talk to people. Get your driver’s license."
He's one of the dozens hoping for a chance to snag a ticket to a same-day appointment.
"Excessive traffic flow, people moving in and need new driver's licenses. Most of the people you meet in line are coming in from out of state,” he said. "Once you get in, everyone's very professional. They get you in and out. It's quite the production line in there so I think they're doing the best they can. They're just probably understaffed and too many people are coming in."
Just a few spots down from Brownley, Krutika Thaker is a Texas newcomer hoping to get an upgrade from her expired out-of-state license.
"This is certainly an experience of a lifetime in the COVID situation. Like I never imagined would stay in the line at 3 a.m.,” she said.
At the Carrollton and Garland mega centers, customers have reported up to 100 people waiting in line by 6 a.m. so not everyone makes the cut for the same-day ticket. Depending on the day and office, people have reported, at times, only 25 customers getting the lucky ticket for an appointment.
"This is the third time I think I'm coming here,” said Yesh, who declined to give his last name. "There are times we've come here and had to go back because the line was so big, we knew we couldn't be taken in for that day."
People usually bring chairs and pillows. Some even bring blankets to lay down and go to sleep on the concrete sidewalk outside the front doors.
Others like Yesh’s family had no choice but to bring their children and take turns waiting in the car with the kids.
"If it gets to winter, just imagine what the situation is,” he said. "This can be an easy fix, it's not rocket science."
Driver license offices closed for months last year and fully reopened in July 2020 after initial COVID-19 shutdowns. Combined with the current appointment-only approach during the pandemic for those with expired licenses or needing to take a test, there's been a backlog of customers still unraveling from the shutdowns last year.
"While appointments mean customers are no longer waiting in line for services, it does require customers to go online and make an appointment ahead of time," the Texas Department of Public Safety said in a statement to NBC 5.
To alleviate the crowded system, many offices offered services on Saturday through December 2020 and extended weekday hours through August of this year to help more customers get the services they need, according to the Texas DPS.
However, the department told NBC 5 in a statement that temporary permits, extensions and grace periods that were offered earlier this year are no longer available.
"We understand some customers are having to book appointments weeks, or months, out due to limited availability. We understand the frustration of having to wait, and we encourage people to check availability at numerous locations, as well as check back often to see if appointments have opened up at their location of choice," DPS said in a statement.
If you want to avoid the line, they suggest checking their website often, as availability changes everyday. If someone cancels an appointment, you can snag it as soon as it shows up online. One woman tried that method in April but was warned it could take a while.
DPS also added a new section on their website showing wait times for appointments and lines at their offices, which can help people plan which office to visit.
The department usually notifies drivers by mail that their license will be expiring 60 days in advance of the expiration date. However, if your license hasn't expired yet and you meet the requirements to avoid in-person assistance, you can renew online up to two years before expiration. To check your eligibility to renew or replace your driver license online, click here.
Things to Remember
There are also a number of items customers need to make sure they bring with them to the driver's license office. For expired or new licenses, that includes a certified birth certificate, not a photocopy or hospital-issued copies.
To view a list of what to bring with you when applying for official Texas identification, click here.
Not every office will have same-day appointments and some people might not have the flexibility or time to wait for hours in the morning. Others have even tried driving to smaller offices in other regions of the state to get their business taken care of quickly.
"Several people in line were saying if they had a child that was trying to get a learners permit, that they were going as far away as Waco,” said Vernell Gorelick, who was able to get her license renewed after it expired in September.
Gorelick's busy and unpredictable work schedule couldn’t bank on traveling far, so she lined up bright and early at one of the North Texas mega centers to get a walk-up ticket.
"I was number 111 or s but I got there at 5 a.m.," she said.
But here's the catch – she said she still had to come back later that day to the open appointment slot.
"People who take the bus and stuff like that, it's almost impossible,” she said.
According to the DPS, most offices also offer a limited number of customers without an appointment a spot on a “standby” list. These customers will be required to wait at the office and are assisted in the event of an appointment cancelation or no-show. The number of standby appointments available is limited to ensure all customers who are placed on the list will be served by the end of the day.
"While these can be good options for customers with urgent needs – your first, and best, option should be to schedule an appointment," the DPS statement reads.
Another obstacle right now is people not showing up for booked appointments. The DPS currently reports that 28% of appointments are no shows, which impacts the people who are waiting in early lines to get in.
The DPS said if you can't make your appointment, cancel as soon as possible. That allows even more people to get taken care of and ease the strain on the system.
"It's the craziest thing," said Gorelick. "We're in the great state of Texas and here's what we're doing for people to get the basics of a driver's license."