Backlash was swift following the Texas Department of Public Safety’s announcement Friday to reduce services at its Temple driver’s license office because of overwhelming demand.
Nearly 200 comments were left on the Telegram’s Facebook page about the reduction.
“So let me get this straight: Overcrowded so we will cut back services? Smh (shaking my head),” Temple resident Mike Boley said on Facebook.
Cathy Sanger Coe, also a Temple resident, said the move did not make sense — especially with Bell County’s growing population.
“Temple has had problems with this for years. Sitting outside waiting to be called is crazy,” she said. “Temple is growing; they need a bigger office and better workflow. Why aren’t they doing that?
Well, a bigger office may be in the works. It is one of the long-term solutions to the driver’s license office’s overcrowding issues that state Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, suggested to DPS officials over the weekend.
As for a more immediate fix, Shine said he suggested that DPS set up canopies with misting fans, chairs and a speaker system outside of its office, located at 6612 S. General Bruce Drive, to alleviate some of the demand.
“Telling people they’ve got to go to Cameron or Killeen or Gatesville is not a viable option,” Shine said.
A request to comment sent to DPS spokesman Dave Roberts was not answered by press time.
The Temple site was still listed as a place to get driver’s license renewal on Monday — although scrolling down to the bottom of the DPS website showed a box repeating the DPS press release saying the service would not be available.
State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, a Lakeway Republican who represents Bell County, said she has been engaged for the past few months on the topic of DPS driver’s license offices.
“DPS is currently under Sunset review, and, as a member of the Sunset Commission, I have met repeatedly with DPS officials and stakeholders concerning proposed reductions of licensing locations across the state,” she said in a statement to the Telegram. “I strongly oppose any efforts to reduce services to the citizens of Senate District 24, and am working on practical solutions such as requiring license renewals less frequently and finding administrative efficiencies within agency management.”
After digging up data on the number of transactions conducted by the Temple office, Shine found that it saw 30,724 transactions last year. Of that, 21,017 were driver’s license renewals, and 18,214 of those renewals could have been completed online, on the phone or through the mail.
“Of course, folks are conditioned to go to the driver’s license office to get these things done,” the Temple legislator said. It will take a change in perspective for people to renew their license online, he added.
Shine met with local DPS officials on Monday morning. At 9 a.m., he said, the 30 chairs inside were full and people were sitting on the curb.
“In the last few weeks, there have been some life safety issues at the office where EMS had to go out because, in the afternoon, the lobby was full and people had to wait outside and they got heat stroke,” Shine said.
As DPS weighs potential solutions, Shine suggested the department could lease a larger space at the Temple Mall or the strip mall that has the Cinemark Movie Theater on Interstate 35.
DPS looked at possibly bringing a mobile center, Shine said.
“The problem there is — because of the cutback in funding that the governor required DPS to do on administration this current biennium — in order to man those mobile facilities you’re having to use the people who are in the local office,” he said. “So it doesn’t help you any. It doesn’t accomplish anything as far as efficiency or expediting people getting through.”
Next year, when the Texas Legislature meets, Shine plans to pursue funding to construct a DPS driver’s license megacenter in the county to keep up with the area’s growth. The six areas affected by DPS’s reduction plan — Temple, Conroe, Denton, Houston-Dacoma, Plano and Rockwall — are all high-growth areas, Shine said.
Shine had a message for those who renew their driver’s license at the Temple office.
“If someone is out there and there are a number of folks that are there to get services and it’s 5 o’clock, the DPS office does not close if you actually sign in there before 5 o’clock,” he said. “They will stay until 6, 6:30, 7 o’clock if necessary to make sure everyone who shows up gets served.”
The service reduction will end on Aug. 31.