Dressed in snow boots and a heavy coat, Cindee Winter inched along a snaking line at the Driver License Division office in West Valley City late Monday afternoon.
"I guess since you only have to do this every four years, you can stand to wait a little bit. But if you did this once a month, I might feel differently," Winter said of a bill before the Utah Legislature that would have increased most driver's license fees by $5. A portion of the revenue would fund new satellite offices intended to curb long waits in line.Tuesday, the House Transportation Committee amended the bill to make it a $2 increase instead of $5 and sent it on to the whole House for consideration.
Supervisors and examiners freely admit the waits can be long. "This is the highest volume office in the state. We put more people through here than any other office in the state," said Becci McKnight, supervisor of the West Valley office.
David Beach, director of the state Driver License Division, said the office serves about 500 people per day. With increases in Utah's population and birthrate, the demand will only increase. Currently, 1.2 million Utahns are licensed to drive.
HB52, sponsored by Rep. Stephen M. Bodily, R-Lewiston, Cache County, would increase driver's license fees from $10 to $15. Increased revenue would be used to open two branch offices in Salt Lake County and one in Utah County, which would process licenses renewals, identification cards and other "express" services.
"I can't in all honesty say everything's going to be wonderful," Beach said. "For the so-called average person, you ought to be able to get in and out quicker."
If nothing else, residents of Salt Lake and Utah counties would save time if they could drive to an office closer to their homes, he said.
Though Beach is convinced of the need for the increase, Utahns apparently are not.
In a Dan Jones & Associates poll conducted earlier this month for the Deseret News and KSL-TV, 70 percent of the respondents opposed the proposed fee increase.
A total of 605 people were interviewed between Jan. 8 and 10; the poll carries 4 percent margin of error.
Asked to interpret the poll results, Bud Scruggs, Gov. Norm Bangerter's chief of staff, said: "I think people just don't like to pay more for things. If people could become convinced there would be improvement in service and improvements in our ability to guarantee safety on the highway, they'd be more willing to go for that."
Public opinion polls are not particularly valuable in determining public policy, Scruggs said. He suggests poll results are a better barometer of what education campaigns should be initiated regarding a particular issue.
But it's clear that long waits in line at the state's driver license offices fuel anger and cause some people to take their complaints as high as the governor's office. "In my first year up here, we had more complaints about drivers' licenses and auto license registration than anything else," Scruggs said.
McKnight said the slow lines take their toll on Driver License Division employees as well. When license applicants are frustrated they sometimes vent their anger at examiners, and that causes employee stress and job burnout.
"Stress is the biggest drain on everyone here. Employees who work at this office can burn out anywhere between three and five years. They do burn out. You cannot work in high gear eight hours a day five days a week," she said.
Although the office staff works in teams and rotates duties, the constant stress is more than some examiners can bear.
The West Valley office, for example, has 12 examiners. "Of all the examiners when I started (1 1/2 years ago), only two are here," examiner Ken Frank said.
Employee turnover means even longer waits in line because it takes time to train employees. It's a vicious circle, McKnight said.
Yet Beach is optimistic the bill will make its way through the Legislature.
According to division statistics, the $2 increase would raise $2.68 million within the next four years; however the $5 increase would have raised $6.7 million over the same time period. But Beach is a realist. A similar bill died in the House Rules Committee a year ago.
If the measure fails a second time, Beach said, Utah motorists can expect "more of the same. It would be very much status quo."
Dollars for driving
Western states' driver's license fees:
All licenses are good for four years, except Colorado's, which is a five-year license.
Source: Utah Driver License Division