Secretary of state's office makes changes amid complaints about appointment system

Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias is opening two walk-in centers for senior drivers today, among other upgrades to meet demand following a major transition to an appointment system for tests and licenses.

The walk-in centers at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview and the Evanston Civic Center will operate from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday. Giannoulias also has added more appointment slots and calibrated a help line to connect people 70 and older to operators.

The action comes amid criticism from some drivers, many of them suburban seniors, who say it's been difficult to schedule appointments or find ones nearby.

From Sept. 1, when the new program started, to Thursday, DMVs had served more than 165,000 customers by appointment, officials said.

"The Skip-the-Line program has been functioning at a high level in the few weeks since its official launch," Giannoulias said in a statement provided exclusively to the Daily Herald. "But we can still make improvements with targeted adjustments, and I am focused on implementing these to benefit all of our customers, especially our seniors."

Here's a look at the improvements.

• The two senior-only centers, geared to drivers 70 and older, are intended for walk-ins, but appointments can be scheduled. The centers are open for the "foreseeable future," Giannoulias spokeswoman Hanah Jubeh said. Officials will monitor how busy the centers are and make adjustments as needed, she noted.

• In-car and road-test appointment slots have been expanded by 40%, or nearly 1,300 a day, at Chicago-area DMVs. Officials said the new senior centers should reduce demand at other offices and they will continue to assess the situation.

• The phone help line as of this morning is offering a prompt that routes drivers age 70 and older "directly to operators who will provide on-the-spot information, schedule appointments or assist with online renewals." The number is (800) 252-8980.

• A feature was added to the secretary of state's website Thursday allowing customers to filter DMVs by ZIP code and highlighting appointment openings at locations near them.

Giannoulias, who took office in January, established the appointment system for driver's services to cut wait times and ensure predictability for customers at DMVs.

But Donna Burger of Mount Prospect reported last week that her husband, a veteran, had tried unsuccessfully for days to get an appointment by phone.

"We called 14 times and the answer is: 'The queue is full,'" said Burger, 84. "The only time that a person answered - we were offered a slot that was in Quincy. Is this the way the government treats seniors? Such disrespect."

Expedited service can't come soon enough for some seniors who feared their licenses would expire before they got appointments.

Ronald D'Antonio of Huntley "tried for a week to get an appointment in either Woodstock or Elgin. Needless to say, it was to no avail," he said Tuesday.

"After a week, I managed to get an appointment in Belvidere. I guess I ended up trading a wait in Elgin or Woodstock for a 45-minute drive, each way, to Belvidere. Even at that, I waited 35 minutes past my appointment time."

Under the new system, slots are supposed to be available 15 days in advance, with some also being released each morning. Customers who prefer to schedule by phone can call (844) 817-4649.

Republican state Sen. Don DeWitte of St. Charles, a transportation committee member, said he hadn't heard any complaints. "The fact we had two in-district secretary of state events in the last three weeks may have contributed to keeping most constituents happy," he said.

The Evanston Civic Center is located at 2100 Ridge Ave.

Gridlock alert

Westbound I-290 drivers in the Addison vicinity should expect delays accessing the Route 20/I-355 ramp. IDOT crews will be working on deck and joint repairs to the ramp, meaning only one lane will be open. Construction should wrap up in mid-November.

You should know

In case you weren't sure - Metra does permit bikes on trains during rush hour provided there's room. At a Wednesday meeting, local cyclists pointed out conflicting rules on printed schedules and the railroad's website and complained some bikers have been turned away on Union Pacific trains.

Officials confirmed that Metra has relaxed its bikes-on-trains policy and is allowing bikes and folding e-scooters on all lines unless crowding is a concern. As to the outdated schedules, administrators said they'd look into a solution.

One more thing

It's been a milestone month for the long-awaited Red Line extension. The Chicago Transit Authority learned on Sept. 8 it's in line for nearly $2 billion in federal funding to push the train line south from 95th to 130th streets. Just days ago, the CTA requested proposals from firms to design and build the project. A contract should be awarded in 2024 with groundbreaking anticipated in 2025.

Tired of the lines when you renew your driver's license? Friday brings new appointment system

Why Illinois' new driver's license appointment system is frustrating seniors

Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias speaks to reporters in July at a news conference announcing changes requiring appointments for driver's services like tests. Numerous seniors have reported problems scheduling appointments. Andrew Adams/Capitol News Illinois
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