Editorial: DMV study needs to take broader look

When the state of Oregon was strapped for cash a couple of years ago, officials made a decision. The state’s Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division — DMV — put an end to Saturday service hours.

Now Oregon has a bit more money, and lawmakers are poised to reconsider the matter. Representatives have approved House Bill 4047 by a substantial majority. The bill is awaiting second and third readings in the Senate and seems headed for approval by week’s end.

Rather than simply order the DMV to reopen offices on Saturday, HB 4047 sets up a task force to study the agency’s customer service and make recommendations about ways to improve it. That’s good. A simple restoration of Saturday hours may not be what serves Oregonians best.

In some areas of the state, additional hours, no matter when they were scheduled, would be a major improvement. Eastern Oregon counties, for example, are huge, and DMV offices few and far between. As a result, residents of Maupin, in Wasco County, must drive 40 miles to visit the DMV office in The Dalles or nearly 50 to visit the one in Madras. Residents of other rural communities face similar hurdles.

A return to Saturday hours would improve the situation, but the task force should not stop there.

Are extended weekday hours feasible, and is there a demand for them? In an era when taking time off from work to wait at the DMV while your child obtains a learner’s permit is less acceptable than it used to be, staying open beyond 5 p.m. some weekdays may be valuable.

Washington state, meanwhile, has turned over a chunk of its drivers’ testing to driving schools, a move that has cut wait time dramatically. Is that feasible here? Probably not so much in rural Oregon, but it’s worth considering for larger cities.

The task force will be composed of lawmakers, citizens and business representatives. It will give lawmakers recommendations in time for the 2015 legislative session. Rather than focus narrowly on one thing — Saturday hours — it should take a far broader look at what might work in Oregon.