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Why people leave Richmond at 5 a.m. to stand in line for hours at this DMV

Posted at 6:04 PM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-11 23:28:08-04

LOUISA COUNTY, Va. -- More than a year since the pandemic began, many Virginians are still having trouble finding timely appointments at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) location nearest their home.

While a growing number of states allow walk-ins, Virginia’s DMV centers remain by appointment only, according to the DMV’s website.

However, a DMV Select office in Louisa County does allow walk-in customers. And those customers arrive early hoping to take care of their business on a first-come, first-served basis.

CBS 6 Problem Solver Brendan King and photojournalist Curtis Akers visited the Mineral DMV where people line up hours outside before the doors open at 8:30 a.m.

Myra Glover stood in a line that wrapped the Mineral Avenue building and snaked through the parking lot past the porta johns. She borrowed a friend’s car and left her home in Richmond at 5 a.m. to drive the 50 miles and get her place in line.

Mineral DMV line 01.png

“I thought I was early,” Glover, who stood about 20th in line, said. “I thought I was going to be the first one.”

Melanie Gardner, also of Richmond, arrived at 7 a.m. to renew the tags for her vehicle.

“My car is going to get towed at midnight. So yes, it’s do or die. You have to do it now,” Gardner explained.

Mineral DMV line 03.png

Bill Gramling, at the front of the line, said he arrived at 6 a.m., two and a half hours before the doors open.

“They say out here it's first come, first serve,” he stated. “That's why the line builds like it does.”

You cannot get a driver’s license or learner’s permit at the Mineral DMV, but according to employees, customers from all over Virginia travel to this location to fulfill just about everything else.

The Mineral location offers title and tags services, registration renewals, and tag transfers.

Their website warns customers to “expect a two to four-hour wait daily, some days more due to an increase of customers.”

“The soonest appointment I could get would be after the tags would be expired,” Jason Donovan who was third in line, said.

Employees said they used to close at 5 p.m. but wouldn’t leave until 9 p.m. finishing transactions. Now, workers shut the line off at 2 p.m.

If you miss the cut-off, then you must come back.

Currently, eight of 49 reopened DMV Select offices offer walk-ins.

Those offices are located in:

  • Abingdon
  • Brunswick
  • Cheriton
  • Dillwyn
  • Mineral
  • Orange
  • Palmyra
  • Russell

"As restrictions are eased, we are looking forward to opening more windows in our customer service centers to create additional appointment opportunities," the DMV spokesperson said in a statement.

When asked about a timeline of when more DMV offices will offer walk-in service, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam urged everyone to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Brendan and Governor Northam.png

“A lot of the agencies during COVID have been significantly affected," Northam responded. “The best way to get out of this and get people back into the DMV and back to the mobile units is to get this pandemic behind us.

“I encourage everybody listening today if they haven't been vaccinated please take that opportunity and we will get all of these businesses back up and running and all of the agencies."

In late April, Gov. Northam announced the state would ease restrictions on June 15 if coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to drop.

The CBS 6 Problem Solvers reached out to the Governor’s office to explain whether the DMV centers will be included in that announcement. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Problem Solvers are still waiting to hear back.

A DMV spokesperson said the DMV Select offices were independently run through localities or, in some cases, dealerships. But, we’re told that’s not a loophole since the state is allowing the Mineral location to accept walk-ins.

"Pre-pandemic, we conducted an average of 309,111 transactions a week statewide across all service channels, including customer service centers, DMV Selects, online, by mail, etc," the DMV spokesperson said. "Last week, as an example, we conducted 365,335 transactions. Of those, more than 73,000 were conducted in a DMV customer service center, compared to 33,000 in a DMV Select partner office."

While that has led to long lines in Mineral, those who have made the trip don’t blame the employees.

“Only the people who need the DMV and the DMV workers understand that because they must be overworked,” Gardner explained.

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