Californians wishing to purchase earlier appointments with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles will no longer be able to buy their way to the front of the line under a law Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Tuesday.
The proposal from Assemblyman Tyler Diep, R-Westminster, aims to crack down on companies that charge a fee to help someone book a DMV appointment, a service that the state offers for free.
“The intention of the bill has always been to make sure that people who have a need to access state services should have the same right to get it without having to pay more,” Diep said. “Our state government should not be a game for people who want to turn something that is an inconvenience into a profit.”
In Sacramento, customers looking for an appointment may not be able to find one until January 2020. Businesses like YoGov, whose website helps Californians navigate government services, step in by offering people DMV appointments within three or four weeks at a cost of $25. Though YoGov appears to be selling appointments, the company says the new law won’t apply to it.
“We don’t sell appointments. We sell a personal assistant service,” said Ryder Pearce, founder and CEO of YoGov. “If you want to make an appointment, you submit your name and information and what you need and we have a person we call a ‘concierge’ respond.”
It’s unclear whether Assembly Bill 317 will thwart YoGov’s business model. Under the new law, which unanimously cleared the California Legislature, a company selling DMV appointments would violate the state’s vehicle code, which comes with a maximum fine of $250.
The DMV has long criticized companies booking appointments for clients. Instead, it urges customers to make an appointment through the DMV’s website.
“The DMV’s Investigations Division has looked into YoGov and found they are charging customers a fee to find an appointment, a service that is free and available to all consumers via phone and internet 365 days a year,” the department said in a statement. “The DMV has looked into third parties such as YoGov, and, so far, no legal violations have been found.”
Pearce said the company doesn’t book an appointment until a customer reaches out to YoGov to request one. After that, an employee — not a bot or automated software — will regularly refresh the DMV’s website until a new or canceled appointment becomes available, according to Pearce. He estimates the company has booked 200,000 appointments this year, with the bulk of the requests coming from California customers.
The DMV anticipates a surge in customers visiting offices for a Real ID — a federally mandated card for U.S. residents who want to board domestic airplanes or enter other federal facilities without having to bring a passport. Thousands are expected to start getting turned away at airports on Oct. 1, 2020.
With millions of customers failing to bring in proper documentation when applying for a Real ID, Pearce said YoGov could actually help reduce wait times. “We are increasing the efficiency of the DMV because we tell them exactly what they need for Real ID. We’re decreasing the amount of repeat visits, which is a strain on the system itself.”
Even so, the company does snatch up lots of appointments the moment they become available, leaving everyday Californians unsuccessful in their efforts to find an immediate opening. This could exacerbate the problem of people showing up in person without an appointment, thus contributing to longer wait times and longer gaps between available appointments.
“I cannot say for sure if this bill will shorten the wait time for people, because we have an incoming rush of people who need to get a Real ID,” Diep said. “I’m hoping this bill won’t make the situation worse.”