Monday, November 10, 2014

Editorial: Making the DMV experience less painful

For once, a slogan that is actually true
(image courtesyof
In the last few weeks, I have had occasion to visit the CA DMV twice. Usually, the very thought of visiting the DMV makes me want to curl up into the fetal position and babble uncontrollably. It is so bad, I look for every possible way to avoid having to do it, taking care of as many things as I possibly can ahead of time so as to minimize my time spent in the wretched place.

My experience in VA, for instance, was standing outside behind at least 100 people on a swampy, muggy late summer morning, fully an hour and a half before the DMV opened, just to make sure that I could get out of there before noon. In DC, at least the location was indoors, but despite arriving an hour before opening time, there were already at least 100 people in line in front of me and it still took over three hours to finish a few simple procedures. By far the worse experience was in MA, where I not only ended up spending an entire afternoon at the DMV, but was forced to go twice because each visit to the DMV can only include three transactions, a limit that was met by my need to get a new license, title a vehicle, and then register that vehicle. Given all of these rather miserable experiences, it should be no surprise that I was not exactly looking forward to paying the CA DMV a visit.

However, the experience was quite far from what I would have expected. Unlike the other states that I have lived, CA's DMV permits the scheduling of appointments, allowing one to avoid the massive lines and quickly get stuff taken care of. My first visit, I was in and out in under and hour, despite having to take two written knowledge tests (I applaud CA for requiring people to take a written test, even an abbreviated one, every few renewals). The process -- including time to drive there, fill out the paperwork, get everything processed, complete the tests, and drive home -- took a combined total of just two hours. Compare that against the often half-day ordeals that I have suffered through in other states and CA's DMV is actually starting to look like the model of efficiency.

It is not a totally perfect system, of course, as it is dependent upon a system that requires employees to mark the forms to indicate that an appointment was made (a reality I discovered when I went back a second time to title and register my motorcycle). However, on whole, the process is infinitely more efficient than what I have experienced elsewhere. And in all honesty, I am not sure why appointments are not required, since setting the appointments would allow the DMV to better allocate time and resources and help ensure that things are taken care of efficiently. But then again, that might break the common thread between all drivers, who with a knowing nod can acknowledge the pain that others have suffered through at the hands this nefarious government agency.