Donny Vosen has had to deal with long lines before at the Brainerd License Office but never quite like this.
“You would think we were selling Eagles tickets, as long as these lines have been,” said Vosen, one of the managers of the Brainerd-based service provider. “And the phone doesn’t stop ringing — and we’ve got five lines in this place — so what does that tell you?”
The staff now wait on customers who queue up outside the Northwest Fourth Street building due to pent-up demand for services after the governor’s shelter-at-home order was rescinded.
“We can’t use all of our stations. … My staff also has to have social distancing, which does slow things down, obviously, plus everything the state has dumped on us in the last couple of years, you know? We’re carrying 40% more workload than we were two years ago,” he said.
The office reopened its building doors on June 1 for face-to-face transactions after temporarily closing the facility. Because of social distancing, people are now often waiting outside to get in on a first-come, first-served basis.
“Technically, we never closed for the record. We were closed to the public, we were closed to face-to-face transactions when the governor shut us down, etc.,” Vosen said Tuesday, June 23.
Minnesota Auto & Driver’s License of Brainerd, also more commonly known as the Brainerd License Office, is unlike other Department of Motor Vehicles offices in that it has been independently operated since 1963.
“In order to keep social distancing, we have them waiting at what we call ‘stations,’” Vosen said of the customers and current conditions inside the building. “We have five stations that people wait at. And then we have five stations that people are being served at.”
The Brainerd Lakes Office provides motor vehicle license plates, titles, registration tabs, vehicle transfers and all related Department of Motor Vehicle-related items as well as driver’s licenses, permits and identifications.
“We’re not requiring anybody to wear a mask. We do recommend it,” Vosen said of those entering the building. “You can’t force that on people, you know? Some people are asthmatic, etc.”
The Brainerd Lakes Office also handles Department of Natural Resources titles and registrations for boats, all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles.
“You know people have been very understanding and very patient, and they should be commended for it,” Vosen said of those who have appeared in person.
A drop box is available at the building for motor vehicle and Department of Natural Resources renewals and other simple transactions to expedite processes and minimize contact; payment can be made by check, credit or debit card, or money order but must be exact.
“We do have a drop box now for people to do the easy stuff. We put a drop box outside so people can drop off their tab renewals or anything easy that they know what the price is going to be,” Vosen said.
Brainerd License Office clerks are certified by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Driver and Vehicle Services division. They are also Computerized Vehicle Registration-certified and National Motor Vehicle Title Information System-certified.
“We’ve been short-staffed for three years. But we have the same amount of people on staff,” Vosen said of staffing levels before the shutdown and after reopening.
Vosen said people can pre-apply online for a driver’s license by visiting www.dps.mn.gov and save some time and effort that way.
“That’ll tell you exactly what documentation you need, depending on what kind of driver’s license you want,” Vosen said. “The REAL ID driver’s license is the one you need for flying. The deadline for that has been extended a year to October of 2021 to alleviate this big rush here.”
More than 110,000 driver’s licenses or identification cards expired during the stay-at-home order, but expiration dates have been extended until two months after the peacetime emergence declaration by the governor ends.
“Our email volume has — oh, my God — 1,000 times as many emails as we used to get, and we’ve developed self-help replies for people to help them figure out how to do a transfer or other simple stuff,” Vosen said.
Vosen said the Brainerd License Office does not open until 8:30 a.m. weekdays, excluding holidays, but people have lined up as early as 90 minutes before the doors are unlocked.
“Here’s the thing: People who come to a DMV, they’re not happy — who would be? But these are Minnesotans. And let’s face it. They have been very understanding and very ‘Minnesotan,’” Vosen said. “That’s the best way to describe that. People have been extremely pleasant. … I mean you’ll always get that jerk — doesn’t matter what you do, even at McDonald’s. We don’t focus on them.”
Only a limited number of customers are allowed in the building at any one time, so customers are encouraged to dress for inclement weather.
“People — at least in the Brainerd lakes area — they have been fantastic to us and my staff, and I appreciate it,” Vosen said.