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REAL ID uptake only 21%; PennDOT halves answering time on calls

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(The Center Square) — PennDOT is noticing more Real IDs issued in the commonwealth — but expects only a quarter of residents to have them by the federal deadline in 2025.

By February, 20.8% of Pennsylvania drivers opted in to REAL ID, about 2.1 million people. For May, the uptake rate has slightly improved to 21.3%, PennDOT Deputy Secretary Kara Templeton noted during the State Transportation Commission meeting on Wednesday.

“We’ve anticipated a 25% adoption rate by the time of the compliance date, so we’re still tracking to meet that target,” Templeton said.

Federal law will require a REAL ID to enter federal buildings or for commercial flights starting May 7, 2025, but non-REAL ID licenses can be used for state purposes. The mandate has been delayed multiple times due to the pandemic.

Critics of the federal law have raised privacy concerns and argued that the tradition of delaying implementation means that it won’t happen at all — the federal law passed in 2005 and was originally planned to take effect in 2008.

Pennsylvania isn’t the only state with lagging numbers; other states like Illinois have seen similarly low uptake numbers and the federal government estimates that 44% of people didn’t yet have a REAL ID.

PennDOT noted it plans to “increase communication efforts” as the May 2025 deadline approaches. Residents cannot switch to a REAL ID online and must go to a Driver Licensing Center to do so, though some can pre-verify their documents online if PennDOT already has them on file.

For fiscal year 2023-24, PennDOT has issued over 207,000 REAL IDs.

Officials also noted the switch from a vendor handling customer calls to doing it in-house has improved wait times.

The outsourced call center, PennDOT noted, lost almost half its staff during the pandemic “and they were unable to recover,” leading to “insufficient staffing” to meet customer service standards. In 2023, the agency expanded four regional call centers and increased staff.

“We have seen some improvements since that transition,” Templeton said. “Our average speed of answer has decreased … also, the average abandon rate has improved.”

By April 23, answering phones went from 35 seconds under the former vendor to 14 seconds; abandoned calls dropped from 1,769 to 1,287 per day; and workers have gone from 26 in January to more than 70.

PennDOT expects to get to 108 workers in the call centers.

“We continue to see our statistics enhanced and improved as (customer service representatives) become more confident and experienced,” Templeton said.