Held hostage and powerless in Shelby County

STAR ID driver license
STAR ID driver license

It was an inconvenient and unnecessary experience—and proof that at least one Alabama government agency doesn’t care about its citizens.

I called and immediately got a busy signal.

Same on day two…

…and day three…

It was apparent that I was wasting my time and no one was going to answer the phone.

I was trying to contact the Pelham Driver License Office in Shelby County to see about getting a STAR ID License since every domestic air traveler will be required to have one starting October 1st.

I had gone online and knew which documents to bring, but wanted to know the best time to come.

I had to do some business in Shelby County so I chose to drive to the Pelham office nearby.

The website said the office is open from 8 am to 4 pm. It was 2:30 when I arrived—an hour and a half before closing.

A sign on the door said to go into the office and request a number.

I was given the number 22 and I asked how long I might expect to wait.

I was told that they currently were on number 7 and that it should take about 10 or 15 minutes per person. I didn’t know how to compute the time—so I stepped back into the waiting area and sat down.

When the number 8 was called on the loud speaker, I asked the woman, who gleefully jumped out of her seat, how long she’d been waiting and she replied four hours.

Four hours!

Since the office was scheduled to close in less than 90 minutes, I thought it might be prudent to go back into the office and make sure I would be serviced before the office closed at 4 pm.

The employee responded, “Look Sir, we gave you a number, and we will do our best to get you in.

That was not the answer I hoped for, but I dutifully retreated to the waiting room and slunk back to my chair.

Five minutes later, a new arrival walked into the office. She quickly returned and I asked what happened. She said she was told they discontinued giving numbers (almost an hour and a half before scheduled closing), and to come back tomorrow morning at 6:45 to stand in line for an 8 am opening.

I looked around the waiting room and realized that many folks there were parents who had brought their sons or daughters to get their learner’s permit.

I was sitting next to a man who was with his 15 year old daughter– he said they’d been there since 11:45.

My newly found waiting room friends were surprisingly cheerful considering the circumstances. Though everyone was frustrated, they were trying to make the best of the situation.

One parent proclaimed that spending most of her day getting a driver permit for her son was clear proof of a parent’s unconditional love for her children.

An older adult jokingly announced that today she was celebrating her 19th birthday even though one of her ID’s proved she was old enough to get social security. When her number was finally called, everyone in the room gleefully sang ‘Happy Birthday.’

Around 3:25, an unsuspecting young man arrived. He was given a number, but was told the office might close before his number was called. He decided to wait. I don’t know if his gamble paid off.

They called my number–22–at  3:30, so I probably did better than just about anyone that day—waiting only one hour. If I had come earlier, I would have waited longer and if I had come one person later, I would have been turned away. But it sure doesn’t seem fair to parents who have to lose paid time from work to support their children.

Information could be posted online, or at the very least, they could install a recording on their phone.

A friend told me he made an appointment online for the Jefferson County Driver License Office on Arkadelphia Road. That seems like a no brainer.

By the way, the driver license offices are administered by the Alabama Law Enforcement Office (ALEA).

Why should we be held hostage and powerless by a government agency?

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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

Invite David to speak to your group for free about a better Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com

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11 thoughts on “Held hostage and powerless in Shelby County”

  1. I have done this dance in Alabama, Tennessee, and Texas – always the same. This antiquated system is a perfect example of governmental bureaucracy that survives because there is no alternative. #privatizedmv #shouldnotbethishard

  2. WOW, Jefferson County’s former Green Springs office has reappeared.
    That place was so terrible the deputy was asked to stand next to me on a visit where I took exception to their inability to do what I had them do just two hours earlier!
    Praise the Lord for the Hoover Annex, what a dream to use, kudos to all that staff for a pleasant experience.

  3. It does not cost a cent more to issue a star license, it gets issued automatically in more than 20 states. Why does Alabama do the Alabama thing in trying to be last at everything? I recently moved to Georgia and when I finally got around to changing my drver’s license, I was happy to learn that Georgia must be one of those 20+ states. Also, going through this dreadful ordeal was considerably dreadful here. Some Southern states do know how to do things right!

  4. This reminds me of a situation I was in not to long ago. I got a traffic violation in Homewood, AL. I was scheduled to appear in court December ??, 2019. An Emergency came up and I was unable to attend court, I called the entire day of court just kept ringing and going to voicemail, then the voicemail was full and could not leave a message. I continued to call day after day several times a day for about 3 1/2 weeks and still no answer. I called the payment line on the ticket and asked them what to do and I was told to call the court. I told them what had happened and they asked what number I had, I gave it to them and the guy just said hmmmm…… Well I don’t know what to tell you except just keep calling and maybe someone will eventually answer sorry I couldn’t be of any more help. A few weeks later, got pulled over and arrested because I didn’t show up in court. When the judge came to see me in jail he asked why I didn’t show up I told him and he said why didn’t you call? I said I did and explained it to him and he said well next time I bet you’ll be in court

    1. Same thing happened to me in Homewood. Got a ticket for a tail light I didn’t know was out. Had three days to fix it and get an officer to check it out to void the ticket or otherwise pay it. I had it fixed the next morning and called dispatch. They said no officer was available. Car broke down second day, I called, again no officer available, kept calling court.. VM like said above. No one would answer…a few weeks later, I gave up…..a year later, arrested for a warrant for the ticket…cost me $300 in Homewood because I couldn’t find any answers or get any help to find court date ect. I’ve never had a ticket before so had no idea what I was doing. Horrible experience with Homewood. No one there does their job it seems.All about the$.

  5. Very slow process has been for years, you would thin after 40+ years of the same slow process that things would change. Computers are faster and more reliable, you look around and how busy these offices are and it points to be understaffed. But why are they understaffed. Too much good ole boy we always done that way attitude, that will not change given the current environment in Montgomery.

  6. When I moved from Georgia to Cincinnati I went to a DMV office and left ten minutes later with a new driver’s license and tags for my car, so some states know how to serve their public.

    When moving to Birmingham I tried to get a driver’s license, but ran into the same roadblocks as noted. Since I was back and forth to Atlanta, I finally stopped in Pell City and got the license in about 15 minutes. Unfortunately I couldn’t get my tags there.

    1. Right you were. That’s my not so secrets, go to a small town DL office. My daughter and went to Glenco for her test and licensing.
      Bonus: some forced one on one time.

  7. You can get your license updated at any office in the state that processes licenses. The busiest days are friday and monday since parents who are bringing teens for permits and road tests take those days as vacation and get a long weekend. The appointments are for road tests and they are available at the Arkadelphia Road and Tuscaloosa offices and others farther away. Part of the reason for the backup is the number of road test takers who fail. The standards are not high but the training is lousy.

  8. they do this to force you to believe that they need more money when actually they don’t budget the money they have where it is needed – serving the public. You have no choice because you have to have the DL.

    How about being inventive and having a DL that needs renewed every 10 years, After all you only need your pictured and address updated. Oh and those needing it for ID purposes it should be good for life as in no expiration date – after all you only expire when you die.

  9. Greensprings location was ridiculous. Because I let my license expire when I lived in a city with excellent public transportation, I had to take a behind the wheel driving test with a reviewer. Four appointments in the morning, four appointments in the afternoon. That’s it. First time I went, I didn’t know this and missed the cut off. Second time I went, computer systems were down, then were down for multiple days. Third time: both reviewers were out at a conference, but there was no sign, no message, nothing to indicate this during our 1-1/2 hour wait in line outside beginning at 6:30 a.m. Fourth time: first in line, got my number and waited 2-1/2 hours to get to take my test, as the reviewer sat in her office working on her computer in plain sight of everyone sitting in the waiting room. ridiculous.

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