Originally created 06/28/01

Barnes plan aims to cut license lines



ATLANTA - Gov. Roy Barnes has put his political muscle behind efforts to shrink the long lines at driver's license offices throughout the state.

At a Wednesday news conference, he announced plans that would let drivers schedule appointments at the state's busiest license offices by next month and could let Georgians renew their licenses on the Internet or by mail next year.

"One thing I can promise the people of Georgia today is that we're going to try everything we can to keep them from waiting in line," Mr. Barnes said.

Complaints about long lines have been on the rise in recent years, particularly at offices in and around Atlanta, where stories have surfaced about drivers waiting all day to renew their licenses.

Mr. Barnes said the state will launch a pilot program July 16 letting Georgians make a reservation for a time slot at some of the most crowded driver's license facilities.

"This way, people will be able to sign up for a particular time to get their license - allowing them to go to work, return home or take care of their daily lives rather than waiting in line," he said.

He said it hasn't been determined how many counties will be involved in the program. It is expected that most will be in the Atlanta area, although Mr. Barnes and others also noted problems in metro areas outside of Atlanta. If it works, the plan would be expanded statewide.

By the end of the year, Mr. Barnes wants Tim Burgess, the commissioner of the newly formed Department of Motor Vehicle Safety, to devise a plan letting Georgians renew their licenses via the Internet or by phone.

Mr. Barnes and Mr. Burgess estimated that renewals account for about half of the customers in line at driver's license offices.

"What we're going to be looking at is all different possibilities - from the most complex to the most simple," said Mr. Burgess, who said states such as Florida and Virginia already have implemented similar plans.

The plan is similar to a bill sponsored by Reps. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, and Doug Everett, R-Albany, during this year's General Assembly session.

The bill was passed by the House of Representatives but never made it to the floor of the Senate during the 40-day session.

Mr. Ehrhart, who will work with Mr. Burgess on the plan, welcomed the governor's support, saying Georgians deserve some relief.

"Whether it is by the Internet or by phone, getting your driver's license renewed should be something that you can do on your lunch break," Mr. Ehrhart said. "It should not be something that you need to take an entire day off of work to do."

Mr. Ehrhart, the House minority whip, attended Wednesday's conference, noting the political significance of Mr. Barnes, a Democrat, working with Republican lawmakers to solve the problem.

"It really is a great example of bipartisan solutions to help the people of Georgia," Mr. Ehrhart said.

Mr. Barnes hopes the Internet plan is up and running by this time next year.

Reach Doug Gross at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.