Among the issues of interest to Wright County officials
during the current session of the State Legislature is a problem that has been growing
over the last several years and may finally be hitting a tipping point –
scheduling a road test with the Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS)
division of the Department of Public Safety that is required to obtain a driver’s
Wait times for road tests have been extended out for
the last couple of years, but the problem has become much worse over the last
year. Wright County Commissioner Darek Vetsch said he and the other
commissioners brought the matter to the attention of their legislative
delegation because the shortage of testers with the DVS has reached critical
mass and needs to be changed. The Wright County Board is advocating legislation
through that will add staffing because people have to go to great lengths (and
distances) simply to get the opportunity to take a road test.
“It’s awful how long people have to wait just to get
appointments and how far people have gone to take road tests,” Vetsch said. “It
can be months before you get to the top of the waiting list. A lot of people have
gone as far as Bemidji and Mankato to take their road tests because it’s that
difficult to get an appointment in any sort of timely fashion.”
A call was made to the Driver’s License Exam Station that
represents Buffalo Feb. 14 and the person doing the scheduling said that road
test appointments were booked out “until June or July.” A call to the number that
schedules road test appointments in the Twin Cities resulted in the first available
testing date for the entire seven-county metro area was June 22 in Anoka.
Vetsch said that the current system is unacceptable and
needs to be changed.
“We need to get the state to put more testers out
there so people can get the road tests they need in a fair time,” Vetsch said. “They’re
only open two days a week here in Buffalo. They’re booked out for months. When
your kid turns 16, you have to make your appointment three or four months in
advance to get something close to your kid’s birthday. If you happen to fail
your test, you start the clock over again and go to the back of the line.”
Of equal concern is the lag time for commercial drivers.
While not as long of a backlog for those testing for a Commercial Driver’s
License (CDL) as there is to get a road test for the standard Class D license,
it still is stretching out a month or more.
That is an issue for Wright County because of the
expansion of the Trailblazer Transit system. The program is looking to hire
additional drivers, but have hit a wall with DVS there as well. Wait times can
stretch out several weeks and some prospective employees have been forced to
quit because of the wait time after being hired and trained and can’t afford to
go a month or more without a paycheck.
“It’s a big problem with some of the Trailblazer
drivers we hire,” Vetsch said. “We hire our commercial drivers, we train them
for two weeks and then they have to wait four, six, eight weeks before they can
get in to a testing center to get their commercial licenses. They sit on the
bench unpaid. A lot of people have just quit and get different jobs because
they can’t just sit and not get paid for two months. You can’t apply for a job,
get the job and not get to start working for two months. It just doesn’t work
like that. It’s a job killer.”
Vetsch said he hopes that one of the multiple bills
currently being proposed can be merged into one and make it through the
legislative session to make significant increases to staffing to meet the demand,
which is clearly needed. He added that this has been a source of frustration
for the last few years, continues to get worse and needs to be fixed.
“This is clearly a broken system,” Vetsch said. “Something
needs to be done to fix it at the state level because the DVS is a state-run
operation, not a county operation. We’re not proposing to have counties take
over road testing. We just want the state to know that this is an issue for a
lot of people and there are ripple effects when you don’t have your offices
staffed to the level they need to be at to do the job you’re supposed to do.
The need is there and it is obvious.”