Frustrated customers experiencing long lines, wait times at Hampton Roads DMV locations

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Posted at 1:36 PM, Dec 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-15 18:41:13-05

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - For many people, a trip to the DMV is not a pleasant experience, and extra-long lines outside some locations sparked frustration and outrage among some.

Tuesday, News 3 went to the DMV located on Poplar Hall Drive in Norfolk at 7 a.m., an hour before the building opened.

Willie Lyons, 74, said he got there at 5 a.m. after two unsuccessful tries of transferring a vehicle registration. He said he wanted to be the first in line.

“The first time we came over here, the line was all the way around the building,” Lyons said.

He said he then went over to the DMV in Chesapeake, which also had a long line. Another time, he said he went inside after waiting in the long line but did not have the correct paperwork.

Tuesday, Lyons said he was in and out of the DMV in 20 minutes after waiting for three hours outside.

James Watson, 84, said he has been trying to renew his license and left the other day when he saw the long line outside the building.

“I came back this morning because I thought it would be a little bit better. I get here and I’m like, ‘Oh my God! I’m just going to have to stand there and wait, I guess,'” Watson said.

According to the DMV, the longer wait times are due in part to the closure of the Widgeon Road DMV Customer Service Center, which is undergoing renovations until after the holidays. It closed Wednesday, November 24.

Willie Lyles, 75, said he was trying to transfer plates on vehicles. He said he was really cold and did not appreciate having to stand outside for over an hour.

“There needs to be a porta-toilet out here, because this is a long time to stand in line. They've got to think of the people standing out here in the cold," Lyles said.

News 3 followed 22-year-old Frank Hammaker while he tried to get a title and registration in his name.

“The owner is taking the car back if it’s not done by today, and this is my third time here in the span of two weeks,” Hammaker said.

He arrived at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, waited outside for about an hour, then got inside and waited another 45 minutes until being called to the counter, which took about 15 minutes.

Hammaker said was able to get his registration in order on Tuesday.

“This is a happy ending altogether,” Hammaker said. “It’s been very frustrating. There are no other words other than that one.”

Joann Alexander said recently she arrived at the DMV at 10 a.m. and didn’t leave until 4 p.m. after trying to take the test to get her driver's license.

“It’s like an all-day event,” Alexander said.

She had to go back again after not passing the test.

News 3 requested wait times at all 75 DMV locations around the state of Virginia.

The DMV provided us with wait times from the week after Thanksgiving. The statewide average for that week was 34 minutes.

Most of the locations in our region take longer than the state average, but several had very low average wait times, such as 11 minutes in Courtland, 8 minutes in Onancock and 24 minutes in Gloucester.

But the wait times provided by the DMV don't include the time people are waiting in the line outside the building.

Michelle Leach said her birth certificate is from Germany. She just moved to Virginia from California. Tuesday was her fourth time at the DMV.

“I had to take a day off of work,” Leach said. “I just moved here four months ago from California, trying to get a Virginia license, get my address changed, and it’s just been crazy.”

News 3 met with a DMV representative about issues surrounding wait times.

“We are seeing longer lines, more customers arriving first thing in the morning and that tapers off throughout the afternoon, so it might be a good opportunity to visit later in the day,” said Jessica Cowardin, a DMV spokesperson.

The DMV issued statements and a press release to News 3:

Wait times are posted on each location’s webpage and are available on walk-in days. Actual wait times may vary depending on services requested and do not include time prior to receipt of queuing ticket.

"Beginning Wednesday, December 15, 2021, customers may choose to walk in for service on Wednesdays, in addition to Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (in offices with Saturday hours), at all 75 customer service centers. Appointments will still be available on Mondays and Fridays.

"DMV launched its hybrid service model, with alternating days of appointments and walk-ins, October 5 with a pledge to Virginians to evaluate data and adjust as necessary to provide optimal service. A month of evaluation showed that, in addition to continued strong support for appointments, an added day of walk-in service would further enhance customer service options.”

"To provide the best possible service to all Virginians, we continually assess how, when and where Virginians want to access their DMV. Throughout the pandemic, became even more popular so we added to the slate of over 50 online services," said DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb. "After evaluating our new in-person hybrid service model, our data shows a need to fine tune the balance of walk-in and appointment days. We want customers to customize their DMV experience through our many service options and we will continue to work hard to enhance those options for them."

"Data shows strong customer preference of DMV service options outside of the traditional customer service center. In fact, just last week, customers completed 32% more of their DMV business online compared to almost two years ago, pre-pandemic.

"Service options other than a CSC include:

"Online: More than 50 services are available at

"Mail: Popular services such as driver's license and vehicle registration renewals may be completed by mail

"Drop-off: Customers needing a title after purchasing a vehicle from an individual (not a dealer) may drop off their applications and supporting documents at a CSC

"DMV Select: Vehicle-related services are offered through our partner offices

"DMV Connect: Appointments can be scheduled for nearly every DMV service with the agency’s mobile teams

"Customers who have scheduled an appointment and instead decide to walk in for service should cancel that appointment to make it available for other customers. Customers with Wednesday appointments December 15 or later will be automatically rescheduled for a new date near the original appointment."

“We've seen this huge shift in the majority of our customers going online,” Cowardin said.

But for many of the people News 3 talked to, online is not an option.

“Everybody doesn’t have a computer,” Lyons said.

Several other people told News 3 they tried unsuccessfully to get a representative on the phone.

News 3 asked the representative from the DMV if there is anything the public can do better. Cowardin said they are continually monitoring and evaluating and making changes as necessary.

The DMV also said they are currently recruiting, hiring and training new employees in the midst of a labor shortage.

“Our best advice is just to think about how you can plan ahead because we do offer both appointments and walk-ins,” Cowardin said. “There are a lot of opportunities to be prepared before you get to the office, so that would be our best advice, go online, give us a phone call and get prepared before you come in.”