If you've gone to the driver's licensing office in recent days, you were probably met with an unpleasant surprise. Several licensing fees have gone up, starting this month, raising drivers license renewals from $25 to $45 and the cost of a new license from $45 to $80.
Washington lawmakers passed two bills raising licensing and vehicle fees to bring in an estimated $52.8 million in 2013 to fund the operation and maintenance of roads, streets, bridges, ferries, transit systems and other transportation services. This is the first licensing fee increase since 2000.
House Bill 2660 and Senate House Bill 6150 increased the vehicle fees and also authorized the implementation of a facial recognition matching system for driver's licenses, permits and ID cards. When the program is put into place, drivers will have the option of adding a biometric identifier to their license or ID card that uses facial recognition technology to verify identity. About 34 states already use a facial recognition program.
To warn drivers about the fee spike, the Washington State Department of Licensing put up signs at licensing offices and told people in their renewal notices, said DOL spokeswoman Christine Anthony. "I think a lot of people tried to get their renewals in before the deadline," she said.
Phil Block posted on The Columbian's Facebook page that he made sure to get his license renewed before his Oct. 8 birthday, just to avoid the additional costs. Amanda Center also posted, saying she tried to get her son's licensing appointment for September, but there was too much demand for driver's testing. Her son got his license last Wednesday at a cost of $80, instead of the $45 it would have cost last month.
Local drivers have expressed frustration with the increases, pointing to other costs that raise the tab for travel, such as the price of gas, which is averaging $4.09 per gallon in Washington, and the cost to replace license plates.
Washington is one of several states requiring drivers to replace plates, though the frequency varies. Replacing standard license plates costs $10 per plate, except for motorcycles, which are $2 per plate. New plates are required every seven years because the reflective coating on the plates wears out. The coating helps drivers and law enforcement officers identify vehicles in poor weather, according to the DOL.
According to the state, 26 percent of funding for statewide transportation projects comes from licenses, permits and driver-related fees.
Other fees have gone up. The cost of a DUI hearing, for instance, went from $200 to $375. Lawmakers have also introduced some new fees, including an annual $100 electric vehicle fee for vehicles powered solely by electricity. The fees apply to vehicle registration renewals that are due on or after Feb. 1, 2013.
Although drivers are paying more for their licenses, endorsements and ID cards, starting July 1, they will be valid for up to six years instead of five.