Photo: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle
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Living in San Francisco, one often has the sense that for every logistical inconvenience — groceries, laundry, driving — there is an app or service that will have a person do the chore for you, often unseen, always for a price.
Over the summer, it became clear that not even the headache of a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles was immune to this effect.
As DMV lines and the wait for appointments got longer and longer, driven by people’s need to upgrade their California driver’s licenses to be in compliance with the REAL ID Act, an Oakland-based startup called YoGov began offering expedited appointments for a fee, letting people get appointments in weeks rather than months for a price that’s currently set at $24.99.
Later in the summer, a companion service was added for people who don’t have months to wait: a line-waiting “concierge service” in which customers pay $94 and give two days notice. A “line concierge” goes to the DMV early on the appointed day and saves the customer’s space in line, waiting for hours until the DMV opens.
“By showing up at the crack of dawn well before the DMV opens, we ensure you a spot at the front of the line. You then can leisurely stroll in when the DMV opens and check in to get your DMV ticket number immediately with no wait,” the company’s website explains.
“Our line waiting concierge will keep you up-to-date with text messages and photos starting when they first get in line, and will notify you when it’s 30 minutes from opening time so you can make your way over with the paperwork.”
YoGov founder and CEO Ryder Pearce estimates the people who have used the line concierge service in California since it launched number “in the tens of thousands,” and says the San Francisco DMV is among the most popular locations because it is so busy.
The people paid to wait in line make a set rate that’s “around $70,” according to Pearce.
Back when YoGov first started getting a lot of media attention with its expedited appointment service, DMV Deputy Director Armando Botello told The Chronicle the agency’s investigative arm was launching a probe looking into the startup and the expedited appointments process.
But Pearce says that since hearing about the investigation, the company has yet to be contacted by the DMV, and that the main effect of the news stories has actually been to drive interest in the company’s services and in California’s transition to the Real ID.
“The DMV never followed up with us at all, there was never any issue there. But it was a good story because it led to a lot of other interest,” he said.
Contacted for comment, DMV spokesman Artemio Armenta issued a statement similar to the one the DMV gave to the Chronicle over the summer, saying that DMV appointments are free and that an investigation is ongoing.
“The DMV’s Investigations Division has looked into YoGov and found they are charging customers a fee to find an appointment,” said Armenta via email. “The DMV continues to look into matters involving third parties such as YoGov, and so far no legal violations have been found but the investigation continues.”
Meanwhile, the saga of long waits at the DMV has continued to evolve. Lawmakers called for an investigation into the waits. In mid-December, the DMV reported that wait times had dropped 65 percent thanks to a series of task forces and tech improvements. Later that month, news broke that the DMV had accidentally issued 2.3 million Real IDs that actually weren’t compliant with federal guidelines.
And word-of-mouth and search interest in YoGov continue to grow, Pearce said. Many are relocating from out of state or out of the country and are unfamiliar with how to navigate the process.
Currently, YoGov offers some of its services for free to people who are pregnant, elderly or have disabilities, according to Pearce.
“We don’t want to create a two-tier system where only the wealthy can pay, so we try to subsidize services so we can make it free or low cost,” he said.
Pearce said the company offered subsidized services for low-income people for a period of about six months, but isn’t doing that anymore.
The common denominator among customers is that they’re busy, he said.
“We help a lot of people from tech companies; They say, ‘Oh good, I don’t have to spend my day navigating the system,” he said. “Lots of people who are at the exec level, VCs, there’s a pretty wide swath.”
“Everyone has to go,” he added. “The DMV is the great equalizer.”
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/dmv-line-waiting-service-sf-yogov-california-id-13559898.php.