The Minnesota Department of Public Safety has pledged to have all of the state's 93 driver's license testing stations reopened by the end of January.

All state testing stations closed from March 27, 2020, when Gov. Tim Walz issued his stay-at-home order, until May 19, 2020, when 15 exam stations opened. During those seven weeks, more than 19,000 scheduled driver's exams were canceled.

A transportation bill passed this summer mandated the reopening of all 93 stations, with services returning to pre-pandemic levels.

"We are absolutely committed to getting 100% of our exam stations reopened as soon as possible," DPS Commissioner John Harrington told the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee last week.

As of now, 26 exam stations are open. There will be 32 stations open by the end of November and 41 by the end of December.

Among the reasons for the delays were that many jobs remain unfilled at the shuttered exam stations and leases needed to be renegotiated or renewed at dozens of the sites.

Committee members noted last week that they have fielded many complaints about the slow reopening of these exam stations, especially in greater Minnesota, which has meant longer drives for people who live in rural areas who want to get their licenses renewed.

"As soon as we did close them, we should have been planning for a process for opening them up," said Sen. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville. "I find it troubling we couldn't open those things much sooner than that."

Pong Xiong, director of the DPS Division of Driver and Vehicle Services, pointed out that even before the pandemic, rural Minnesotans had to travel significant distances to go to exam stations. During the pandemic, however, "the consolidation of exam stations has only exacerbated those conditions," Xiong said.

The committee meeting also aired grievances about the state's driver's license exam stations that were not related to the pandemic.

John Hausladen, president of the Minnesota Trucking Association, said the system is not as efficient as it should be. For example, truck drivers who need to obtain or renew their commercial driver's licenses must compete for exam times with teenagers getting their Class D driver's licenses.

"The trucking industry is facing a serious shortage of professional truck drivers and in turn this shortage is impacting a very challenged supply chain," Hausladen said. "Every minute a driver is sitting in an exam station is time that driver is off the road from delivering food, medicine and essential supplies."

Reid Forgrave • 612-673-4647