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story.lead_photo.caption People stand in line Wednesday outside the Jefferson City Licensing Office. The office is currently trying to find solutions to the longer wait times. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.

The Missouri Department of Revenue is taking more steps to address long lines that have developed at license offices in recent weeks, the department's director said this week.

As the COVID-19 pandemic took shape in Missouri months ago, the Department of Revenue sought to keep people away from its contract license offices by automatically extending Missouri driver's licenses by 60 days, non-driver's licenses and instruction permits that had been set to expire between March 1 and April 30.

The department also granted an automatic two-month extension to vehicle plates expiring in March and April.

At the peak of the pandemic so far, approximately 140 of the 173 contract license offices in the state closed, DOR Director Ken Zellers said Tuesday.

While those measures succeeded in keeping people away to reduce possible exposure to COVID-19, they have also pushed people's needs for service from the spring into the summer — on top of the needs of people who would already need service at this time.

"Although these extensions were necessary and tremendously helpful for thousands of Missourians, they have resulted in a recent influx of customers at license offices throughout the state," Zellers said.

"Additionally, since reopening, license offices have had to implement extra safeguards, such as daily deep cleaning and social distancing, to reduce the risk of COVID-19," he said.

The extra volume of customers and the needed safety measures that slow business have combined to lead to longer lines.

Zellers said temporary license offices are opening throughout the state to try to help meet demand, though DOR did not immediately provide more detail Wednesday on how many offices, where, or how they would be staffed.

"Know that we are working closely with license offices to help them increase efficiencies during this unprecedented time," Zellers said. He added that the department is changing transaction processes and increasing its focus on online and mail-in renewal transactions "to assist as many Missourians as possible."

Online motor vehicle registration renewals have increased 300 percent, and mail-in motor vehicle titling and registration applications has increased 28 percent, he said.

License offices are being allowed to process many motor vehicle renewal transactions by phone, and mail-in driver's license renewal services are available for commercial driver's license holders, Zellers said.

"We are beginning to implement a phone-in motor vehicle renewal service in Jefferson City, which will enable our customers to call in to renew their license plates," Zellers said.

Starting July 31, DOR will automatically renew and mail Permanent Disabled Placards for more than 200,000 eligible Missourians, he said.

"This will also reduce overall foot traffic at license offices throughout the state," he added.

An earlier news release from the department stated that to be eligible for automatic renewal of a Permanent Disabled Placard, "a person must already have a Permanent Disabled Placard on file with the department and their placard must be up for renewal in 2020. First-time recipients of a placard must still apply in-person at a license office."

The placards are removable and hang from people's rearview mirrors, letting them park in disabled parking spaces. More information on the placards is available at dor.mo.gov/motorv/placards.

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