Lawmakers put heat on Walz administration to reopen dozens of DVS offices

Benjamin Franklin’s observation that “in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes” may need to be updated to include another universal certainty — the Department of Vehicle Services. You can always count on the DVS to make life more difficult than necessary sooner or later, even when, as it turns out, most of the agency’s offices are closed.

Only about 26, roughly one in four, of the 93 DVS exam stations statewide have reopened this year for walk-in services, according to its website. The agency offered the following explanation for its plans on when business will resume as usual in a news release back on May 15.

“Thank you for your patience during this uncertain and stressful time for all Minnesotans. DPS-DVS has been working very hard to find safe, fair solutions to resume services that have been unavailable during the stay at home order,” Minnesota Department of Public Safety Driver and Vehicle Services Director Emma Corrie said. “We are prioritizing the needs of Minnesotans who couldn’t take their knowledge or road test during the past several weeks by allowing DPS-DVS exam station staff to focus on testing services.”

But the vast majority of DVS offices appear to remain shuttered, a full year and a half after closing down for the pandemic. The continuing inconvenience caused for hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans has reached the point where a group of Republican senators has demanded to know what’s holding things up in a terse letter to Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington.

We are hearing from our constituents about the slow pace of reopening DVS testing locations closed by the administration. Minnesotans expect that their tax dollars and user fees are used appropriately to provide a reasonable level of service. They communicated that expectation to us and as their elected officials we voted for a bill ensuring Minnesotans in all corners of the state have convenient access to testing facilities they need to go to work, go to school, and live their daily lives.

The 2021 legislature approved a bill providing $5 million to reopen all of the driver’s exam stations closed by the Walz administration. But the lack of transparency on when and how DVS plans to comply led the lawmakers to put the heat on Harrington.

Despite the bill being signed into law over three months ago, we have yet to hear any plan from your agency to reopen these locations.

We ask that you provide us with a list of the exam stations that are open, a list of exam stations that have not reopened with the reasons (s) why they have not been reopened. If they are in the process of being reopened, please provide a timeline for their opening.

Some of the elected officials’ concern stems from remarks Harrington made during the legislative session that were picked up by MinnPost.

Even as he pledged in March to reopen exam stations “strategically,” Harrington said “consolidating DVS locations for health and safety reasons during the pandemic proved to be an unplanned pilot for centrally locating staff.”

“The data shows major efficiencies were achieved by this consolidated service delivery model, which fully staffed fewer locations,” he said.

A review of DVS exam locations is underway with the goal of making recommendations for improving the system’s efficiency down the road. In the meantime, the agency faces increasing pressure from Minnesota residents and lawmakers asking whether the hold-up in reopening existing locations is the result of DVS’ typical ineptitude or a political ploy that largely affects rural constituents.