The Department of Motor Vehicles service center in Sterling has reopened after a six-month closure, pleasing many customers tired of trekking to Loudoun County's only other DMV office in Leesburg but frustrating others who thought the lines were still too long.
Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) closed 12 DMV centers statewide last fall as part of nearly $900 million in spending cuts. Faced with political pressure and public dissatisfaction, Warner announced last month that he would reopen the centers, using $6.4 million from a securities fraud settlement.
Six of the centers reopened Thursday, including those in Sterling and Warrenton, the only DMV center in Fauquier. Four more will reopen March 20. The Northern Virginia Dealer Center in Alexandria, a service center for auto dealers, will be combined with the Franconia center. The busy center at Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax County will not reopen because its lease has expired.
The Sterling office opened two hours early, at 8 a.m. Thursday, to handle a larger-than-expected demand. At 8:15, there was an announcement that all DMV computers statewide had crashed, so customers could only fill out paperwork. Any documents would have to be mailed to them. DMV spokeswoman Pam Goheen said network outages in the Department of Information Technology caused the computer problems, which were unrelated to the reopenings.
By lunchtime, the line stretched to more than 30 people, just to get a number and a form to fill out. Customers then had to wait another hour to speak with a service agent. The Sterling center processed 302 transactions Thursday.
Many customers were already grumpy after having to trek down the hill from Big Lots or across the street from the post office parking lot because the DMV lot had not been fully plowed. Customers waited as long as 10 minutes for a space or had to park elsewhere. The snow also meant that the DMV was not able to administer road tests Thursday.
Bryan Chitty said he waited a month for his local office to reopen, but "the line was moving too slowly, so I decided to come back when I had more time to kill."
Dennis Lund of Reston called the DMV's 800 number on Wednesday to find out which centers would be open Thursday. The recording did not list the Sterling center, but Lund had read about its reopening in the newspaper, so he called customer service.
"Her comment was . . . 'It takes a little while to get that programmed into the voice mail,' " Lund said. "For an area that's so innovative, this is run like it's been running since the 1950s." By press time, the Sterling office was not listed on the recorded message.
Grace Weitman of Sterling left at noon, after two hours in the DMV. "I thought it would be worse than it was," she said. "I found a parking space, and I think that's the main thing."
Fred Nickols was even more understanding. The Reston resident came in the morning but left because of network outages. When he returned, he could not get his motorcycle plates because the Sterling center didn't have the right ones. But that did not dampen Nickols's spirits.
"Maybe I'm just a nice person?" he said. "I was going to do this about a month and a half ago in Chantilly, and I got there and there were people waiting outside in line. So I cruised around the parking lot and left. I decided to wait.
"Their DMV is better than California's," he said. "This line's not bad. Anytime they're not having people hanging outside, that's pretty good for a DMV."