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Va.’s REAL ID most popular in Northern Virginia in first 10 days

FILE - In this photo taken April 6, 2016, a sign at the federal courthouse in Tacoma, Wash., is shown to inform visitors of the federal government's REAL ID act, which requires state driver's licenses and ID cards to have security enhancements and be issued to people who can prove they're legally in the United States. Lawmakers in Washington state are now trying to bring the state in compliance with the law, and if state-issued identification cards and licenses are not changed, residents may have to produce additional forms of ID when boarding domestic flights at U.S. airports beginning in January, 2018. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, file)

FAIRFAX, Va. — Virginia issued more than 16,000 REAL ID compliant licenses in the first 10 days of offering them, and the commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles said Wednesday that the change has increased wait times across the state.

“The busiest part of the state is what we consider the North Fairfax and South Fairfax districts, which is Leesburg over to Alexandria down to Fredericksburg, Stafford,” Commissioner Richard Holcomb told the Joint Commission on Transportation Accountability.

In the northern half of that area, a much higher than expected 51.5 percent of people chose to pay the additional one-time $10 fee for a new or renewed license with a star in the top right corner to indicate that it will remain valid for airline travel and access to secured government facilities such as military bases after Oct. 1, 2020.

In the southern half of that area — which Holcolmb said includes areas from Lorton through Stafford and Fredericksburg — 41.9 percent of DMV customers opted for a REAL ID since the Oct. 1 launch, Holcolmb said.

Example of a Virginia REAL ID. (Courtesy Virginia DMV)

Nine of the top 10 locations for REAL ID pickup so far are in Northern Virginia.

The lowest initial rate in the state is in the Bristol area, around 19 percent.

Statewide, REAL ID compliant licenses have made up about 35 percent of those issued in the first 10 days with the new ones as an option.

“It’s hard to set a trend after one week, but I would say that 35, almost 36 percent is what we thought we would be seeing,” Holcolmb said.

The new credentials do appear already to be leading to a spike in people going to the DMV. Last week, about 5,000 more customers came in statewide than in the same week a year earlier.

“I will admit that we’re seeing a little bit of an uptick in wait time. We think some of that will go away when our customer service reps become more familiar with the process, and we think they’ll be able to it more quickly, but you probably will see a little bit of an uptick in wait time,” Holcolmb said.

He expects to ask the General Assembly for permission to hire more workers over the next two years, as the number of people applying for the new licenses could surge further.

“We certainly will be asking for more people because this is just the tip of the iceberg, and we know that we’ll have a lot of people start coming this summer through the fall of 2020,” Holcolmb said. 

An additional challenge at Northern Virginia DMV locations is high turnover, as people find better paying jobs elsewhere.

But, in southwest Virginia, “people retire or die. That’s the only way we lose employees in the Bristol district,” Holcolmb said.

Federal law requires states to scan and keep documents supporting a REAL ID compliant license. Residents must apply in person to get one.

“We love our customers, but a lot of them wait until the very last minute,” Holcolmb said.

The DMV is asking people whose licenses expire between now and Oct. 1, 2020 to wait to come in around when their licenses expire. If it expires within a year after that, Holcomb suggests coming in a year before the expiration date.

“We know that come the summer of 2020, we’re going to be overrun,” he said.

Holcolmb got the state’s first license last week after showing his passport, birth certificate, current driver’s license, voter registration card and Social Security card to prove his identity, legal presence in the United States, Social Security number and residency.

Acceptable identity and proof of legal presence documents include a birth certificate or current U.S. passport. A Social Security number can be shown on a Social Security card or pay stub.

Proof of residency requires two documents such as utility bills, mortgage statements or a lease. Anyone who has changed their name must also show proof of that such as through a marriage certificate or divorce decree.

The Department of Homeland Security is expected to certify Virginia’s REAL ID program by Jan. 10, after pushing the deadline back from Oct. 10. Virginia has submitted the certification package, Holcolmb said.

The extension and approval is key since a failure to grant that would have made current Virginia licenses invalid for base access and other purposes.

“Everyone’s current credential you can continue to do what you’re doing with that … the next thing to worry about is do you have that [new] card by Oct. 1, 2020?” Holcolmb said.

At that point, driver’s licenses that do not meet the new federal requirements first approved after the Sept. 11 attacks will still be valid on the road, but are scheduled to no longer be valid to fly or to access secure federal facilities and military bases.

That deadline has already been pushed back several times.

Maryland and D.C. already require the additional documentation as part of new applications and renewals for licenses held by anyone in the country legally. But many people who have not renewed their licenses in the last few years still have IDs that are not compliant with the REAL ID law.

Sometime on or after Oct 1, 2020, the Transportation Security Administration is scheduled to begin only accepting licenses that carry the star showing they meet REAL ID requirements.

People with the limited licenses could show a passport, military ID or other to-be-determined documentation instead.

Holcolmb hopes to have larger trends in REAL ID production and wait times by the time the General Assembly convenes in January.


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