ST. PAUL — State lawmakers, bus drivers, trucking groups and local elected officials on Friday, Oct. 15, pressed the Minnesota Division of Driver and Vehicle Services to speed up efforts to reopen driver's license exam stations around the state.
The calls come after all exam stations were closed in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the state, and as just over two dozen have reopened since. In the interim, Minnesotans have faced significant wait times, long travel times and limited service offerings from the exam stations.
That hit to available services has been especially profound in Greater Minnesota communities, where regional stations have yet to reopen. State lawmakers in June wrote into law the requirement that the exam stations reopen and put up more than $5 million for a swift transition.
As of Friday, only about a third had reopened. And DVS heads said difficulties hiring and fixing leases for exam buildings were slowing the process.
“Even before the pandemic, our customers in Greater Minnesota had to travel significant distances to receive services from these exam stations," DVS Director Pong Xiong said, "and with the consolidation of exam stations through the pandemic, that’s only exacerbated that distance."
Xiong, who recently came into his role with the division, said the state was on track to reopen 31 stations by the end of November, 41 by the end of December and all of the 93 previously available stations by the end of January.
“We are absolutely committed to getting 100% of our exam stations open as soon as possible,” Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington told the Senate Transportation Committee on Friday. The department oversees DVS.
Spokespeople for trucking groups and haulers said that they'd waited days to renew their licenses due to the closures and had lost time and resources as a result.
“It is next to impossible to plan loads when you don’t know how long a driver will be held up for an exam,” Trent Morrell, president of Morrell Transfer, said. “DVS needs to make CDL exams and road tests a priority to keep the supply chain moving.”
A spokesman for a state school bus drivers group said the industry had struggled to convince applicants to go through with the process of applying when they learned they'd have to drive an hour or more to an exam station. And Freeborn County Commissioner Ted Herman said his constituents had experienced a "real heartache" having to drive to Rochester or elsewhere for knowledge or road tests.
Lawmakers on the Senate panel urged DVS officials to consider working with the private sector to bring exam services online quicker.
“I have no doubt that you’re working hard at it, I believe that. I really do," Committee Chair Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, told DVS leaders. "But it’s a pretty significant problem for you to solve and perhaps the private sector would be a way to help us help the people of Minnesota."