Wait times at driver services centers across East Tennessee have multiplied since July. The state is trying to change that--but the worst may be yet to come.
STRAWBERRY PLAINS, Tenn. — Outside the driver services center in West Hills Friday, the line of customers formed practically pre-dawn.
They checked their watches, clutched their coffees and prepared to wait.
"The earlier you get in here, the earlier you leave," Lilia Yanez said.
She brought her son to retake his written permit exam before school.
"We’re keeping fingers crossed by because this is the third time."
She planned to get him to school on time, but the statistics are stacked against her.
Since the Real ID program went into effect in July, wait times at East Tennessee Driver Services Centers have increased substantially.
At the West Hills location, waits peaked at 54 minutes in July. At the Morristown location, they've multiplied more than five times--from almost six minutes in June to almost 29 minutes in October.
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At the Strawberry Plains office, average waits more than doubled from June to October.
"If you're not there early, you're going to wait," Yanez said.
Driver services administrators insist the roll-out of the "enhanced" license--needed for airplane travel and federal building entry starting October 2020-- has gone relatively well. Officials said times are falling from their summer peak.
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"Wait times went from being about 14 to 15 minutes up to I think ours peaked at about 30-35 minutes, maybe a little bit more than that," Ron Scarbro, the manager of the Strawberry Plains office said.
The state has added self-service kiosks and brought on part-time workers to help manage the load.
"Steps are being made are being taken to address these wait time issues and we're seeing that as a success," Scarbro said.
The other issue: new "enhanced" Real ID licenses require more documentation.
Outside the West Hills location Friday, Tammy Jones clutched a folder full of documentation.
"I mean I'm just bringing everything. I have anything from marriage certificate to birth certificate," she said. "I’m not sure exactly what we have to have, but if it’s not correct, I’ll go back and get some more."
Driver services locations have changed throughout so document checks for customers like Jones happen earlier in the process.
"So that they're not having to wait 45 minutes to an hour only to get called up and find out that they don't have what they need and get turned away," Scarboro said.
But he warns wait times might go up even more as the October 2020 deadline gets closer.
"We're doing everything we can, we're getting staffing in place, we're doing all these things making sure we're still getting that right information out there so that when it does happen, we're going to be ready to address it," he said.
Scarboro said making sure customers know what documents they need helps avoid repeat visits and keeps lines moving.
RELATED: Tennessee Real ID: Everything you need to know
Some county clerk offices can also issue Real IDs. They are allowed to charge a small additional fee. All of Knox County Clerk locations can issue them except for the office at the Farragut Town Hall.
Driver services spokesperson Wes Moster provided this data of average wait times for East Tennessee license centers:
Oak Ridge Driver Services Center in Anderson Co.
June: 3,013 people served. Average wait time, 9 minutes 23 seconds.
July: 3,327 people served. Average wait time, 43 minutes 9 seconds.
August: 3,399 people served. Average wait time, 29 minutes 52 seconds.
September: 3,452 people served. Average wait time, 13 minutes 35 seconds.
October: 3,723 people served. Average wait time, 12 minutes 25 seconds.
Maryville Driver Services Center in Blount Co
June: 2,593 people served. Average wait time, 16 minutes 44 seconds.
July: 3,557 people served. Average wait time, 45 minutes 31 seconds.
August: 3,679 people served. Average wait time, 31 minutes 39 seconds.
September: 3,618 people served. Average wait time, 20 minutes 36 seconds.
October: 4,362 people served. Average wait time, 24 minutes 50 seconds.
Morristown/Hamblen Co. Driver Services Center
June: 2,887 people served. Average wait time, 5 minutes 44 seconds.
July: 3,774 people served. Average wait time, 15 minutes 34 seconds.
August: 3,531 people served. Average wait time, 21 minutes 4 seconds.
September: 2,929 people served. Average wait time, 24 minutes 12 seconds.
October: 3,307 people served. Average wait time, 28 minutes 46 seconds.
Knoxville/Knox Co. Driver Services Center
June: 3,099 people served. Average wait time, 24 minutes 56 seconds.
July: 4,850 people served. Average wait time, 54 minutes 20 seconds.
August: 3,586 people served. Average wait time, 53 minutes 17 seconds.
September: 3,319 people served. Average wait time, 33 minutes 55 seconds.
October: 3,794 people served. Average wait time, 29 minutes 34 seconds.
Knoxville/Strawberry Plains Driver Services Center
June: 4,224 people served. Average wait time 13 minutes 23 seconds.
July: 5,643 people served. Average wait time, 36 minutes 2 seconds.
August: 5,397 people served. Average wait time, 28 minutes 7 seconds.
September: 4,117 people served. Average wait time, 18 minutes 48 seconds.
October: 4,715 people served. Average wait time, 29 minutes 34 seconds.