People wait for their numbers to be called at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles office in Portland in 2019. The bureau is rolling out an online appointment system beginning Monday in hopes of reducing wait times. Walk-in service still will be available. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Earlier this month, Portland resident Bob Hudson walked into his local Bureau of Motor Vehicles office on a Wednesday morning with plans to get a Real ID, the federal identification card that many Mainers soon will need to use for air travel.

Hudson had just started a new job that will require him to travel, so he waited despite a big crowd of people and a broken computer. When the computer started working, clerks began calling people with line numbers in the low 70s. Hudson’s number was 103.

So Hudson waited. He answered office email on his phone while helping others navigate the ticket system. An hour and 45 minutes later, Hudson was called to the window. He completed the Real ID transaction itself in minutes. The clerks were helpful, he said, but the wait was brutal.

“I had to help about 5 to 10 people to get their numbers because they couldn’t figure it out and there was no one to help,” Hudson said. “It was a difference from the previous trips to the BMV which were always fast. When I left, I saw people had numbers into the 130s.”

The state is hoping that a new appointment system it is rolling out next week will banish long waits to the dustbin of old stand-up routines, where parodies of long waits for license renewals and the sloth-like speed of government personnel have served as punch lines for many a comic, TV show and movie.

On Monday, the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles will begin taking appointments for Mainers who don’t want to take time off from work to wait in line to take a number to wait in another line to run a bureaucratic errand, like renewing a license or replacing a vehicle title.


“Mainers lead busy lives, and for a variety of reasons, many people have limited time for errands like renewing their license,” Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said. “Launching appointments while maintaining walk-in options is a common-sense step forward to better serve our customers.”

Each of the BMV’s 13 branches will have appointments available each day. Mainers can schedule appointments online, starting Monday, from one to 20 days ahead of time. Walk-in service still will be available, however, as it is now, to allow for flexibility for Mainers who need it.

An agency once praised for speedy service has struggled with long waits in recent years due to staffing shortages. In 2019, about one out of every five BMV positions in the 70-person bureau was vacant, leaving thousands of people to wait more than an hour and a half for service.

The bureaus have been slowed considerably by a wave of Mainers trying to switch their driver’s licenses to the new federally compliant Real ID, in addition to the backlog of people who have been renewing documentation and paperwork that expired during the pandemic.

Data shows that BMV customer visits are up around 20 percent over previous years. However, many common BMV transactions, like vehicle registration renewals or driver license renewals, can be done online at any time.

Mainers must visit a branch in person to be issued a Real ID-compliant license or State ID. The Real ID-compliant credential is optional for Mainers, but as of May, people will need more than a state license or ID for federal purposes, such as boarding a commercial aircraft.

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