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Vermont DMV eyes schedule changes, closures at 5 locations including White River Junction

Published: 6/22/2021 9:43:38 PM
Modified: 6/22/2021 9:43:43 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles is considering changes to how often five of its locations will be open for in-person services — or whether any of them could be permanently closed.

DMV branches in White River Junction, Dummerston, Middlebury, St. Albans and St. Johnsbury have been closed since Gov. Phil Scott declared a COVID-19 state of emergency in March 2020, which was lifted last week when the state met its 80% first-shot vaccination goal.

The six other DMV branches — Bennington, Montpelier, Newport, Rutland, South Burlington and Springfield — have since reopened for in-person appointments.

Commissioner Wanda Minoli said the increase in DMV services available online, such as a system for driver’s license renewals, has reduced demand for in-person services.

The agency is using pre-pandemic data, she said, to get a sense of how drivers used the five branches that have not yet reopened and are under review.

“Based on the data of how many customers used to use those locations,” Minoli told VtDigger, “we are saying: Do we open this location? Or do we change the schedule of how this location would operate if we were to open it?”

The DMV will recommend next steps for the five branches in about a month, she said.

‘That’s a hardship’

When reached for comment, two state senators told VtDigger they had not heard the DMV was evaluating potential service changes at some locations, including Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.

Mazza said the DMV would not move forward on any changes without notifying the Legislature, adding he thinks the DMV is committed to providing better service.

“Everybody is looking at evaluating hours — I’m in the grocery business,” he said, referring to business post-pandemic. “It’s just an honest study. (Minoli) said certainly if any changes would be made, we’d know about it right off.”

Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, said drivers have understood the need for DMV branches to be closed during the pandemic. But he thinks it would be unwise for the DMV to close its St. Albans location because residents in the northwestern part of the state would need to travel farther to access in-person services.

Brock said while the St. Albans branch has seemed busy every time he’s been there, if the volume of customers is in fact low, he can see why the DMV would want to redirect drivers to another location.

“Hopefully they will do the evaluation, and their evaluation would conclude that there is both consumer demand and also a need to see that these services are dispersed throughout the state — rather than concentrated in these heavily populated areas,” he said.

Brock added that even with more DMV services available online, it might only make sense to close physical locations once better internet access exists statewide. Tens of thousands of rural Vermonters lack access to high-speed broadband, he said.

“To tell a person who doesn’t have internet access who lives in Berkshire or Franklin or Highgate that they’ve got to drive 40 miles in order to renew a license — particularly if there has to be some hands-on, as opposed to being able to do things by mail — that’s a hardship,” he said.

When asked about access to DMV services from rural areas, Minoli said the agency is considering where broadband is and is not available, as well as drive times to other DMV branches from areas with limited internet access.

Following the state’s full reopening last week, the DMV is granting 90-day extensions on driver’s licenses and non-driver ID cards that expired on or before June 15. A 90-day extension has also been granted on registrations that expire this month.

Walk-in appointments still are not available at the locations that have reopened.

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