Honolulu is dealing with a dramatic increase in the number of driver’s licenses that expire this year.

That alone would lead to long lines at Oahu’s five Driver Licensing Center sites. Throw in a series of mishaps — including a massive loss of documents and the cancellation of thousands of appointments —  and you’ve got a real mess.

Liz Dutton was one of thousands of residents trapped in the backlog.

Dutton arrived at the Kapalama Driver Licensing Center at 10 a.m. Aug 29, two hours after it opened but already too late to pull a number for the waiting line.

Scores of people line up before 8am at the Kapalama Driver License Office of Honolulu.

A line formed at the Kapalama Driver Licensing Center on Wednesday morning two and a half hours before it opened.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

She met the same fate that day at the Fort Street Mall Satellite City Hall, so she tried to make an appointment on the city’s AlohaQ website. That option allows people to make an appointment at a driver’s license center or satellite city hall up to 45 business days in advance. But the earliest appointment she could get was Oct. 17, two weeks after her driver’s license expires.  

On Wednesday, Dutton arrived at the Kapalama center before it opened and joined a line that had started forming at 5:30 a.m. She managed to pull a number this time and by 8:15 a.m. she settled in for an expected three-hour wait.

“Make an appointment three months before your license expires. That’s my advice,” she said.

More Licenses Expiring

The number of expiring driver’s licenses increased from about 2,000 per month in the summer of 2017 to about 12,000 per month this summer. It will continue to climb through October, when the city Department of Customer Services is bracing for about 13,000 expiring driver’s licenses.

DCS Director Sheri Kajiwara said through a spokesman that she could not give a definite explanation for the spike.

But at a City Council parks committee meeting last week she cited a 2010 state law that made driver’s licenses valid for eight years instead of six as a possible reason for the spike. The impacts of the law are being felt now, eight years later, said Kajiwara.

That would seem to at least explain the low number of expiring licenses last year, since anyone renewing their license after the law’s passage would only now be facing possible expiration of an eight-year license.

Kajiwara was not available Thursday to elaborate on the law’s effects.

The number of expiring driver’s licenses increased from about 2,000 per month in the summer of 2017 to about 12,000 per month this summer.

City and County of Honolulu

A few other things that happened this summer exacerbated the backlog.

In March, the city announced that it had lost scanned documents of about 66,500 people due to malfunctioning hard disks maintained by a vendor contracted to issue driver’s licenses and state identification cards. As a result, 44,000 people needed to bring original copies of their documents to city centers, Kajiwara told the parks committee.

Then in June the city’s mainframe computer system malfunctioned. About 2,000 people who had appointments needed to come back another time, Kajiwara said. The city opened the Kapalama center on Saturday, June 30, to try to make up for it.

When the centers closed for two days as Hurricane Lane threatened Oahu last month, another 1,200 people lost their appointments.  

Before-You-Go

“Can you imagine how upset they were after they waited a month to get one?” Kajiwara said.

An automated text message was sent to everyone who lost their appointment to announce that a license center would open all day on a Saturday, with a special line dedicated to the affected customers.

Starting Aug. 20, the city also opened the Waianae Driver Licensing Center five days a week rather than just on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as it had previously operated.

A few other factors may have caused lines to get longer, Kajiwawa said. Starting in October 2020, anyone boarding an airplane or accessing military bases must have a state ID marked with a gold star, which the city began issuing in January. Some residents thought they needed to rush to get a new gold star license this year.

In 2013, the city added to the list of documents required to obtain a license or state ID. But some people still don’t understand what they need to bring in.

“After six years people still come to the center and say, ‘When did I have to start bringing my birth certificate? Why do I have to bring my Social (Security card)?” Kajiwara told the City Council members last week.

Andrea Bender with her daughter, right, 16-year-old Emily Bender stand in line at the Kapalama Driver License Office of Honolulu.

Andrea Bender with her daughter, 16-year-old Emily Bender, right, stand in line at the Kapalama Driver Licensing Center. An appointment made online eased the process for them.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

For Andrea Bender, the online appointment system launched by the city in April made it easy to get a driver’s license for her 16-year-old daughter, Emily. The Benders arrived at the Kapalama center Wednesday at 7:40 a.m. and were on track to be seen for their 8:30 a.m. appointment. Staff members stood outside checking people’s paperwork and helping them get into the correct lines.

Twenty-five to 30 percent of those who make appointments don’t show up. Kajiwara urges people to cancel their appointment online so it will become available to someone else.  

The city is urging anyone with an expiring license to renew it as early as six months ahead of the expiration date and make an appointment online — rather than walk in — to avoid what Kajiwara called “this big explosion.”

At least for now, walk-ins wait.

Angel Pasco arrived at the Kapalama Driver Licensing Center at 8 a.m. Tuesday and waited until his number was called at 3:40 p.m. to apply for a driver’s license. He was back in line Wednesday morning to take the written portion of the driving test and arrived early enough to get a spot at the front of the line.

“This time it should be easy,” he said.

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