Why the hate for the DMV?

Quite frequently, I see comments here on the Dope about the DMV, which I gather is the Department of Motor Vehicles in some states of the US. There seems to be a lot of dissatisfaction with their services (don’t know if “hate” is really the right word?)

Just wondering why? In my province, our vehicle registration and driver’s licences are handled by the gov’t insurance office, and I’ve always had good and efficient service, both at the main office and at sub-offices.

So why does the DMV seem to be the stereotype of an inefficient gov’t agency in the US?

In areas with larger populations, the DMV is typically understaffed (at least in my experience in PA and MD), leading to long lines and wait times of several hours. If you go in at odd hours you can often get in and out fairly quickly, but if you go in when most folks go in you end up waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting.

The DMV in PA has moved a lot of things to online, which really helps. The only time I ever have to physically go to the DMV is to get my driver’s license photo taken. Just about everything else can be done online.

The last two times I have been to the DMV have been exact opposites. The first time, I was in and out in 5 minutes and the lines were almost nonexistent. The second time, I waited for about three hours just to get my photo taken.

Because in many cases it’s spectacularly inefficient, and there’s no alternative choice. If you want to get your license renewed or photo taken or any of a dozen other things, you HAVE to go there.

For example, at the DMV by my folks’ place, you have to wait in line as soon as you walk in the door. Then you get a number. Then you wait some more for your number to be called. Then you get your first set of paperwork done. Then you wait in another line. Then they ship you off to the next station, where you wait in another line. Then you get another number. Then you get some more paperwork, and you wait some more. Lather, rinse, repeat, depending on what you have to do that day.

Not enough employees + too many people + dramatic inefficiency + an absolute necessity of attendance = a classic example of government irritation.

I haven’t had any problems with the DMV the last few times I went. They have that system now where you check in at a counter, get a number assigned, and watch for your number to show up on a TV monitor. Time seems to go by quicker this way. It is rather hilarious, though, when you watch an employee processing your paperwork - they actually do it in slow motion.

Because they suck ass and I still don’t know how I’m going to renew my license because Minnesota is a jerk state.

I must say that the RMV in my state (MA) has not been such a nightmare for 20+ years, once I learned to stick to a few well run offices in my area. Unfortunately, the closest one to me (until it was closed many years ago) was not on that select list. They used to allow a maximum of 5 people in line – because (and I think the excuse enraged us more than the act) it upset the counter personnel. If that meant that taxpaying citizens (on some occasions, as many as 100) were forced to line up around their providentially circular building in a moderate New England snowstorm, so be it.

I know what offices to go to for humane treatment, and over the decades, others have learned as I did – which means the wait may be 40-60 minutes, but at least I can take now monitor the wait from home or cellphone via the internet, and “take an e-ticket” in a, say, mall, where I can while away all but the last 10-15 minutes productively, and STILL get polite service from the correct staffer, who can actually address my issue. It’s not so bad, actually, compared to many government agencies, and other RMV offices I’ve been forced to deal with because they were closer to my then-current hospitals during my medical residency.

But if you ask me why they are really hated, I’d say it was this: here is an agency that regulates a fundamental possession and privilege, essential to our daily lives, and which forces us to jump through hoops and wait, just so we can be law abiding citizens! Meanwhile, we are aware that a big part of the clog isa less-honest, less-law-abiding faction.

It’s kind of like being delayed hours in an airport on every flight, when you amd almost everyone around you has never in your lives wanted anything from an airliner but the peaceful and efficient fulfillment of your prepaid contract for air transport – only worse, because (in many areas) a car is necessary for buying groceries, getting to work, rescuing your children from routine dangers, and otherwise fulfilling daily essential activities.

It’s hard not to feel that as intrusive. You may understand the necessity, but…

I live in MN and have no problem renewing my license. I don’t even go to the DMV (which I don’t think is even called that here). Instead, my county has “license bureaus” where you can do things like renew your driver’s license, pay vehicle registration, get fishing licenses, etc. You only have to go to the DMV if you actually have to take the written or driving test. I haven’t been there for years.

Well, if you’re turning 21 and need to renew your driver’s license you can’t do it until less than three weeks before your birthday. So I couldn’t renew my license last week when I had access to a car because it was a week early. While my friend from Nebraska could have renewed his license as much as 6 months before his birthday. I’m not bitter, though.

I hate it because it reminds me of a soviet-style food pantry. Same goes for the USPS.

Inner Stickler, you don’t actually need a car to renew your driver’s license ;). (OK, I understand that maybe you’re having trouble getting to the place. But, if you can get there by, say, bus, that’s OK. They’ll never know.) I didn’t know they had a rule like that for turning 21, because I don’t think they do after that. That sucks–what if you’re away at school?

When we moved to California last year, i had to deal with a US DMV for the first time. During my years in Maryland, i never owned a car, and my Australian license was still valid, so i just used to drive on that (i know, i know, that was wrong). But when we moved to California, we bought a car, and my Aussie license was about to give up the ghost, so i had to get a California license.

Now, if you move to CA from another US state, all you have to do to get a license is take the written test, get a photo taken, and get your license. But if your only prior license is a foreign one, you also get to take the driving test. Yippee! Anyway, here’s my story:

The first step in the process actually happened in the Bay Area. We were up in San Francisco visiting my wife’s family, and i decided to get the application and the written test out of the way. I went to the Daly City DMV, just south of San Francisco and a short freeway run from my wife’s mother’s place. When we got there, there were people everywhere. It looked like bedlam. I joined the initial “triage” line, and shuffled forward to the desk where they give you the forms you need and assign you a number. The woman at the desk was very friendly and helpful, and made some small talk while she got my materials together. I went away to fill out the application, and then found one of the few empty seats to sit and wait for my number.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Those who have been to a California DMV know that there are different letter categories for different types of services, and that your letter is followed by a number. Different windows serve different letters, and you have to wait for your particular letter-number combination to be called. I’m not sure how many letter categories there are, but it must be at least 5 or 6. Anyway, when you’re sitting there with G-138 in your hand, and the G’s are currently at about 45, and they’re also calling a whole bunch of S’s and L’s and whatever else, you know you’re in for quite a wait.

It was actually quite lucky for me that i had some time to kill, because i hadn’t so much as opened the California Driver’s Handbook before setting foot in the DMV. My 2-hour wait allowed me to get through the driving regulations twice before being called. While i think i probably would have scraped by the multiple-choice exam without the book, there were a few specific details that i probably would have tripped up on had i not had a chance to read the rules.

After being called, i gave my application and payment to the man behind the desk. He sent me around to have my picture taken, which involved another 10 or 15 minutes in line, and then the woman there asked if i wanted to do the paper test immediately. Damn straight i did, so into the booth i went. The test itself took maybe 7 or 8 minutes, but the line to get it looked over was a snaking queue that took almost half an hour to get me to the front. The woman looked over my test, using a template, told me i passed, congratulated me, and told me i was only allowed to drive with a licensed driver in the passenger’s seat. So, after 20+ years on the road, i made it back to where i was at age 17.

While i was in that place for over 3 hours, it was in no way an awful experience. I knew it was probably going to take a long time, so i was prepared for it. I came in contact with five different staff members in the course of my visit, and every single one of them was friendly, polite, efficient, and clearly knew their job. I also heard other staff members very patiently explaining things to customers who were having problems of one sort or another, and the only glitch of any sort was when one staff member calmly said to an increasingly loud and obnoxious customer, “It’s not going to solve anything if you get all upset. Let’s just see if we can work out what the problem is.”

Sure, i had better things to do than spend 3 hours in that drab cinderblock building. And if you’re in a hurry, i’m sure it can be a bit frustrating. But it was nowhere near the soul-destroying experience that i had half-expected, and the staff were a model of professionalism and courtesy.

A couple of weeks later i took my driving test back home in San Diego. Because i had booked an appointment, i had a specific time for my test, and when i arrived i did not have to wait at all. The woman i dealt with at the desk was just as friendly and efficient as the people in Daly City. The examiner was, of course, all business, and didn’t bother with any pleasantries or light conversation, but that’s to be expected when you’re taking a driving test. Despite having driven for over 20 years, i was actually a little nervous about the test, even though the worst thing that happens is that you have to come back a couple of weeks later and take it again. Anyway, i apparently did OK, because he passed me, and i’m now the proud owner of a California driver’s license.

That license, though, could be the subject of a Pit thread all its own. I’m sure that the DMV’s budget problems must be a result of all the people they pay specifically to make your license photo as unflattering as possible. Mine seems to have added about 15 pounds to my face alone, and there has been some sort of color shift that gives the whole thing a burned orange tint, making me look like an Oompa Loompa.

Anyway, here’s a raised glass to the people at the DMV. You all do a heck of a job.

I’m sure glad I live in the U.K. where my license is valid for decades.

The last two times I waited 30 minutes at most.

A few decades ago we only had an open DMV office 4 days a month. Everybody that wanted to get something done did it on those 4 days. The wait was hours and you stood in line the whole time while you had to lose half a day of work. There were no chairs or numbers so you couldn’t leave your place.

The DMV is one of those great uniters. Every single licensed driver or car owner – which includes virtually ALL Americans over the age of 15 – has to visit the DMV several times over the course of their lives. The same gov’t inefficiency exists in places like courthouses, emergency rooms, and the unemployment office, but not everyone has to go there.

The best thing is that the DMV (Or MVD) has 50+ spins on how to do it. D.C. and Puerto Rico have their own, so I believe we have at least 52 flavors of DMVs.

52 chances for government to get it right through 52 different approaches. And since they have no competition; no need to be profitable; and the union workers have little motivation, the result is the same.

Oops. This is GQ.

Not sure why you call it inefficeny without more facts. Given their budget, they may be really efficient as far as we know. We could make it private and remove all restrictions, but then there may be areas in the inner city or rural areas where it just isn’t cost efficient to put in a DMV.

Years ago, the MA DMV was horrible. I assume it was corruption and patronage jobs. But corruption can occur in the private sector as well: Enron, Madoff, HerbaLife, etc.

In Oregon, the process is not bad at all.

Hey, if they are doing it cheaply, and this is their efficient version based on that low op budget, I’ll take it. I will accept a little inconvenience and self service to keep my taxes stable.

Here in NC you can renew your license plate online. We had a local DMV office close and I think it was due to so many people using the online system.

I’m gonna totally second what fuzzypickles says. The DMV is one or two government agencies that almost all adults have to proactively deal with, the other being the taxman. And for most people, dealing with the taxman is a completely remote process. Taxes come off my paycheck, and one a year I fill out a form and E-mail it to them and they send me back some of the money I gave them.

With DMV, or in my case MTO, or whatever it’s called where you live, dealing with them is invariably a hassle.

There’s no other agency everyone has had occasion to deal with really frequently.

Here, most “DMVs” have been privatized (here it’s MTO, Ministry of Transportation of Ontario) for almost all driver and vehicle-related functions. Service improved immediately once government employees weren’t doing it, and they added to efficiency by installing ATM-like kiosks where you can do things like renew a plate sticker. But people still bitch about it because it’s still a hassle we all share.

This seems to be right on.

In Nevada most people can do all their DMV contacts online. Those of us who do that don’t have any complaints. On those occasions when one must go the DMV physically it can be a nightmare at some locations at some times.