Closing Auburn licensing leaves few options for residents

By Reps. Pat Sullivan and Geoff Simpson

Special to the Covington Reporter

You may have heard that the state Department of Licensing is planning to shut down its Auburn licensing office. Their plans call for closing the doors before the end of April.

Licensing calls the closure part of its effort to “streamline services and expand customer access….”

Streamlining and expanding access are laudable goals for any state agency, particularly during these tough economic times. We’ve spoken at length with licensing about how closing the Auburn office achieves these goals, but are increasingly frustrated that the information they provide doesn’t show this to be the case.

The Auburn licensing office completes more than 68,000 transactions and 75,000 driving tests a year. For many Covington residents, the Auburn office is the only convenient location.

Licensing wants Kent office customers which seems to be pretty busy in its own right – it handled more than 80,400 transactions last year.

Licensing claims the Kent office can absorb the increased numbers of customers and actually improve service three ways: expanding office hours to 7 p.m. every weekday and all day on Saturdays, encouraging more online transactions and providing self-service kiosks throughout Auburn.

Will an additional 18 business hours a week readily accommodate thousands of new customers at an already busy office? Let’s take a look.

Licensing says increasing use of online transactions will help keep lines from getting too long. But when only 1,900 of the 68,000 transactions completed at Auburn’s office were done online (less than 3 percent of all transactions), it’s difficult to see how this translates into the significant streamlining or expanded access they’re aiming for.

Licensing then claims that self-service kiosks in Auburn will provide another way for people to conduct their business without a visit to the office. But there’s one big problem. While Licensing plans to soon shut the doors in Auburn, it has not moved forward in any way on plans for these kiosks. There is no contract with a vendor, no telling when or where those kiosks will operate, and no idea yet of how the kiosks would handle issues such as vision tests for license renewals.

In addition, the kiosks will require customers to pay an additional service fee. Again, we ask how these currently non-existent, pay-for-use kiosks expand access or streamline business?

For some folks, going to the Kent office will be no big deal. But we have grave concerns about the many low-income or disabled customers who don’t have easy access to a farther office, who do not have the money to pay for services at the planned kiosks, or the many customers for whom driving to the Kent office means a 45-minute trip instead of a 15-minute stop.

Frankly, Licensing’s numbers aren’t penciling out. If streamlining and expanding access is their goal, they haven’t made the case that closing Auburn’s office is the way to do it.

We encourage residents to contact the agency (360) 902-3600, or Governor Gregoire at (360) 902-4111, and let them know that until Licensing can make their case, the doors at the Auburn office must remain open for business.

Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, was the first mayor of Covington and is currently serving his third term as a state representative. Rep. Geoff Simpson, D-Covington, is a firefighter and serving his fifth term.