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Rule shift fuels race to pick up driver’s licenses

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    Chan Wong, right, waited for an hour Friday at the Fort Street Mall Satellite City Hall to renew his driver’s license before learning the computer system was broken. He then went to the City Square licensing office in Kapalama, where he was still waiting after an hour.

Hundreds of people queued up for as long as 21⁄2 hours to get a new or renewed driver’s license at the city’s Kapalama driver licensing office Friday, the last day before strict state identification requirements go into effect Monday.

The scene was particularly testy at 7:45 a.m. when some people in a large, disorganized throng began pushing and shouting when doors opened at the City Square branch of the city Division of Motor Vehicle Licensing, Hono­lulu’s busiest driver licensing office.

KHON2 reported that some people had been paid to hold a place in line by driving schools seeking to reserve road tests for customers. Road test appointments are issued on a same-day, first-come, first-served basis.

People may have been even more anxious because the office was closed for several hours the day before because of unpleasant construction fumes.

There were no arrests or injuries Friday and no other incidents after the initial rush. A police officer monitored the line throughout the day.

Licensing officials said they issued more than 600 license renewals Friday, more than twice the average daily number. The average wait Friday was about two hours, said Ricky Akase, chief licensing examiner and inspector for the city.

The Kapalama office closed its doors shortly after 3:30 p.m., half an hour early, allowing about 50 people still in line to conclude their business. Dennis Kami­mura, longtime division administrator, said few people were turned away.

Most people in line said while they were not happy with the long wait, they expected it. Many spent the time commiserating with strangers.

Some, like Kalihi resident Mary Jane Lazo, 32, complained that there were not enough tellers to handle the situation. At lunchtime, for instance, there were only three cashiers.

But Kamimura said people were taking their lunch hours as scheduled. By the end of the day, there were up to six people processing renewals as the road test crew assisted after finishing its regular duties for the day.

Lazo spent about 90 minutes in line before reaching the front. She said she wanted to renew this week to have a new license in time for a trip. Also starting Monday, licenses will be mailed, which could take up to two weeks, the city said.

Kuakini-area resident Stritama Sherreitt, 54, said she went to the City Square office in the morning, saw the long line and decided to try her luck at the Fort Street Mall Satellite City Hall, which also does license renewals. But when she got there, she was told the computer system went down. Having paid to park in a metered street stall, Sherreitt decided to have some lunch downtown before returning to stand in line at the Kapa­lama office.

Kamimura said a software problem shut down driver’s licensing renewal capability at the Fort Street location for about two hours. A contractor was called in to fix it, he said.

Many people who braved the crowds said they wanted to avoid the hassle of providing more documentation to obtain a license, renewal or beginner’s permit starting Monday.

City officials are following a state law passed in 2010 requiring applicants to show "legal presence" by submitting documents proving their identity and a Social Security number.

For a list of documents that will be accepted, go to

Makiki resident Colin Ching, 58, said, "I think I have all the papers. I just wasn’t sure what it is they needed."

At about 12:30 p.m., Ching had been in line for about half an hour and was about halfway through the line.

On a related note, the nearby Kalihi-Kapalama Satellite City Hall was closed Friday for a second day after employees were sickened Thursday by transient odors from a construction project at City Square. The licensing office was also closed Thursday, reopened in the early afternoon, then closed early about two hours later due to a fire alarm going off.

The satellite city hall did not open Friday because of a lack of staff. Staffers were still feeling sick from the odors, said Chase Masuda, acting administrator of satellite city halls. Several employees at both offices complained about nausea, headaches and dizziness. Two people were treated by paramedics at the scene, and two were taken to the hospital in serious condition. The office probably will reopen Monday, the city said.

Firefighters could not detect any fumes, but suspected the odors may have come from the exhaust of a generator outside that entered the ventilation system.

It was the second time in three weeks that the satellite city hall was closed because of noxious odors. A construction project next door sent fumes into the ventilation system and prompted the closure of the office Feb. 16-17.

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