How the DMV Undermines Democracy, Part II

My late August rant about my terrible experiences at the Virginia and California Department of Motor Vehicles generated comments from RBC readers, from Mark, as well as from Kevin Drum, Matthew Yglesias and their flocks. Some resonated with my trauma; others defended the high quality of DMVs. In light of all the comments here and elsewhere, as well as my subsequent experiences at the California DMV, I wish to expand and amend my initial remarks. I was too hard on the DMV in one respect, but too easy on it in all others.

After spending a year in Washington D.C., I have been trying to move my car registration back to California. As I recorded in my initial post, after being exposed to abuse and incompetence, I left the California DMV office in late August with a 30-day temporary license plate and the mandate to get a smog check. I was told to mail proof of said smog check and my other paperwork to the DMV. I accomplished this within a week and waited for my permanent license plates to arrive.

Thirty days passed and my permanent plates never arrived, making my car illegal to drive. I went online to the DMV website to get a new appointment so that I could find out what happened. The first available appointment was three weeks away, meaning I could not legally drive my car for 21 days. It’s our only car so this was more than a minor problem. We use our car for extravagances such as buying the food that we eat, taking our children to the doctor when they are ill, etc. I am just lucky that I can walk to work. Most people would struggle to get to work in the San Francisco Bay area with no car unless they had several extra hours a day available to navigate public transportation.

When the appointed day finally came, in mid-October, I broke the law and drove my car to the DMV office. Again, there was a long line of people extending out of the front door. Many had appointments but because the sign tells everyone to stand in the same line, those with appointments were needlessly wasting their time doing so. Having endured this farce on my first visit, I knew that there was an “appointment line” parallel to the end of the huge line (from the back, it looks like a rightward bulge near the front of the huge line). Confusion is furthered by the fact that both “separate lines” go to exactly the same place: A tired-looking clerk who tries to manage both lines simultaneously with a minimum of violence.

The only aspect of my initial splenetic post that I wish I could take back was my failure to acknowledge that the employees of the DMV are among its victims; I apologize to them unreservedly for that oversight. Yes, a few of them are surly by nature, but for the most part they are well-meaning, hapless innocents trapped in a world of hurt they never made. To wit, the customer in front of me in the rightward bulge of the huge line (henceforth “the appointments line”) stepped to the desk smartly and said “I have my confirmation number!”. The clerk sighed audibly and said “Those don’t work”. She asked his name, time of appointment and type of appointment. She then thumbed through about 5 separate stapled stacks of paper, one apparently for each appointment type. She put on her reading glasses and scanned the small type line by line until she found his name, which she crossed off with a pen.

Yes, that’s right: Even though appointments are made on-line and half the acne-ridden junior high school kids in Silicon Valley could download that information into a searchable, large print Excel chart for this poor clerk, she is instead stuck with a bic pen and a system that is slower than a Sperry Univac.

As I got to the front of the appointment line a woman customer in the main line exploded at me for “cutting in line”. The clerk said “No, he’s in the appointments line, he goes first”. The woman was overcome with remorse, apologized to me over and over. I couldn’t stop smiling because I imagined the simple, genuine, humanizing words “I am sorry to have been so rude to you” had not been spoken in that dank building in many a moon, and maybe they could dispel for a moment the unmerciful culture of the place. I re-assured her over and over that it wasn’t her fault, and that there was no way she could have known there are two lines; I only knew because I am a regular.

The customer calmed, I turned to the clerk and said that I had an appointment to register my car. She said I would need to fill out a bunch of forms and I said no, I did that two months ago as well as paying all my fees. As proof, I handed her copies of all the paperwork I had mailed to the DMV.

She looked at the stack and said “You were supposed to provide these to the DMV, not keep them.” I said “I did provide them, these are copies”. I did not add “I made copies because I expected DMV to screw up and lose my forms”, but had the impulse to do so.

She pointed to the blue signature on one page and the black writing on another and insisted “These are originals — look at the signatures”. I said “I made these using a color copier.” I did not add “A color copier is a magical machine that exists far beyond the land of State government”, but had the impulse to do so.

She then asked “Where did you mail these? I said I mailed them to the DMV, as I had been instructed to do on my last visit. She said “To what address did you send them?” I said I sent them to the address mentioned in the instruction on the form “Mail the attached documents and requested items to DMV, P.O. Box 942…”. She intoned wearily “That’s the Sacramento office. They are incredibly slow.”

She then grabbed the lever on a machine that looks like it entered service in Governor Browns first administration (Pat not Jerry) and, with a ka-chunk, cranked out a numbered paper ticket and sent me to the keno pool, where I stared at the screen along with all the other suckers who were gambling that day.

It is completely unclear whether people who go to the trouble to make appointments in advance are seen any more quickly than those who just show up. The meaning of the ticket numbers is opaque, B46 and C97 etc. A customer service-oriented organization would reinforce you for making an appointment, much as the Safeway cashier reinforces your use of the Safeway card by telling you how much money you saved that day by being a Safeway member. Perhaps a similar statement of time saved by making an appointment is too much for the DMV. But couldn’t they at least label the ticket “express service” or make it a different color or something that would communicate to customer that they are better off making an appointment than not? Apparent answer: No. As a result, customers in the keno pool either sit slumped in defeat or openly simmer with resentment at a system they can’t understand and therefore consider unfair.

As I sat in the keno pool, I again saw the staff victimized by the DMV’s lack of a customer service orientation. Time after time, people wandered into the building and up to the desks which require a keno ticket for access and asked “Is this where I can get a driving test?” or “Where do I pay for my registration?”. The staff wasted time again and again telling them to stand at the back of the very long line out front. If management could just place a large sign right at the door saying “Everyone with an appointment stand in the green line. Everyone without an appointment stand in the red line” and affix matching colored tape on the floor, hours of staff time would be saved each day in aggregate (making both lines shorter of course). I suspect they would even be ahead in aggregate staff time if they just put someone at the door who verbally directed people to the appropriate lines.

When my number finally hit on the keno screen I went to the indicated desk and gave the staff member my stack of forms. She said that I needed a vehicle inspection. I said that I already got one; please look at the forms. She was puzzled for a moment and then said OK, then I just need a smog check. Identical response by me. Unable to find a justifiable reason to blame me for the problem, she then demanded “You’ve done all your forms — why don’t you have your plates?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I am here.”, I said, resisting the urge to say “Isn’t asking that question my privilege rather than yours?”

She then looked at her computer (hooray, they have at least one!) and said that the Sacramento office had no record of my forms because it takes them at least 60 days to process a registration and I had only mailed my forms in about 45 days ago. I then asked her why DMV provides temporary licenses that expire in 30 days if it takes 60 days to process a registration. “I don’t make the rules” she said. She hasn’t been given the power to serve her customers, so I don’t blame her for not doing so.

She told me to go get another temporary license plate and that if I didn’t get my permanent plates by the time it expired to come back to the DMV and start the process over again. There was no suggestion that the state would take any responsibility for the problem, or that as a taxpayer I was deserving even of an apology. And of course I can’t go anywhere else to get a permanent license plate, so I just followed orders and shuffled to the temporary license plate line.

In one of those moments that is just too perfect, the guy at the front of that line had a shirt on that summed up the DMV’s attitude so well that I wondered if they hired him to stand there. I snapped this photo with my phone to record the moment.

Having been burned once, as soon as I got my new 30-day temporary license plate, I made an appointment on the assumption that the state would again fail to provide me my permanent plates (I didn’t want to wait until expiration day and not have a car for three weeks again). It’s an appointment I might not need and I hate to clog the system and push other people who need appointments back in the queue, but the system has taught me not to rely on it for even a minimum level of service, so I adapt. If other customers are doing the same, then the problem of long lags for available appointments has become self-reinforcing.

As I said in the initial post, experiences like I am having with the DMV are emblematic of what creates popular rage at public services and government generally. To deny or minimize this reality (as did some of the comments that appeared around the web after my first DMV post) is to fail to understand where justifiable anger at and cynicism about government often originates in the U.S. Implying that complaints about public sector services are just right-wing propaganda or responding to them with the feeble excuse that sometimes services are good and that’s good enough, only serves to makes the rage more intense. Those who see value in the public sector should be at the forefront of criticizing public services when they fail rather than reflexively minimizing the problems, leaving dedicated foes of the public sector the chance to score easy points with those citizens who have been poorly served.

If the travails of a middle class professor with the DMV seem of small moment to you, consider many of the other poor souls in the keno pit. Judged at a glance, a lot of them don’t have access to color copiers, jobs they can step out of at any time to make multiple DMV appointments, or even a strong grasp of the complex English on all the forms they sign. I wonder about the new immigrant who does exactly what I did when he moves to California, i.e., every freaking thing the State DMV tells him too, and thinks that his car must therefore be legal. And then a highway patrol officer sees the expired temporary plate and puts on his siren, and the immigrant, knowing he has complied with the government’s procedures perfectly, is filled with anger at what he sees as an injustice as he pulls his car over to the shoulder. Do you want the officer to presume that the DMV doesn’t make mistakes and this insolent driver needs to be taught a lesson by the state, or do you want him to listen sympathetically, apologize on behalf of his employer and send the driver on his way?

I wrote the above in October, and didn’t want to “post angry” as I did the first time, so I have saved it until now and I think in the cold light of reason, it’s fair. My permanent license plates never came so I needed that third appointment I had scheduled. The third time round the staffer said that the staffer from the second time around was wrong, it took Sacramento 90 days and not 60 days to process a registration, so I shouldn’t have listened to her and come back so soon (but, I had to because my second temporary license was expiring). The third time round staffer also asserted that the first time round staffer had had my wife sign a form that she shouldn’t have signed, and that when the Sacramento office got around to my paperwork they would just send it all back to me unprocessed. I got another temporary license and another appointment. A few weeks later, about 80 days after I had mailed my paperwork in, the Sacramento office did indeed send back all my paperwork with no license plates. The office noted that my registration form lacked my California driver’s license number. This is true, because it is impossible for someone just arriving in the state and complying with the law to have a California drivers license, out of state people apply for their driver’s license at the same time as they register their car, and it takes the state a few weeks to process the request and mail you your license. As insurance, I had already scheduled a fourth appointment, and again, it turned out that I needed it. On that visit, over 4 months after my first, fate finally smiled on me: I escaped the jaws of the beast with a license plate and my freedom, at least until 7 months from now when I will have to renew.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

38 thoughts on “How the DMV Undermines Democracy, Part II”

  1. If it's any consolation, a diligent and law-abiding type like you will probably never need to return to the office. I've handled every transaction online or via the mail for a decade, with nary a hitch. Ditto for my wife.

  2. When I moved to California less than a year ago, not having had a car for a few years, I bought a car from a family member, drove a thousand-or-so miles, had the family member mail me the sales paperwork (and mailed them a check), got the car smog-checked, and went to the DMV for a new California driver's license, title transfer, and license plates. I didn't make an appointment, but I did make sure to show up not long after the office opened for the day. It was all done within about two hours, including taking the written exam for drivers, and I drove away with a California license in my pocket and new plates on my car. The only hard part was the written test: the online practice test was about how to drive safely, when to yield and such, while the actual written test had questions about possible penalties under California law and the like, things I couldn't readily answer. Fortunately, out-of-state drivers getting a California license are scored more leniently than are people obtaining a California license de novo or renewing one.

    I'm not saying it was a smooth process within the DMV office – too many lines to wait in, very poor explanation of the lines' purposes, with people winding up in the wrong places – but it was nowhere near the bureaucratic nightmare you describe, and I think we were attempting the same tasks. Where the difference in our experiences comes from, I do not know, other than that I went to the DMV with a smog check in hand. California hardly makes it a secret that you need a smog check to register a car.

    Mind you, the delays at the Sacramento office are inexcusable. Understandable, perhaps, given the equipment you describe encountering and state budget cuts (DMV offices are closed one day a week, if I recall), but not excusable.

  3. Until two renewals of license online at which point you are required to get back into the belly of the beast, without exception. By the time I received the paper work notifying me that I must go into the DMV, which I received a little over a month in advance, I was unable to make an appointment until after my license expires, pray for me.

  4. > As I said in the initial post, experiences like I am having with the DMV are

    > emblematic of what creates popular rage at public services and government generally.

    As opposed to privately-owned businesses such as cell phone providers, health insurance companies, car dealerships, software suppliers, etc which provide _wonderful_ customer service and have been working harder and harder to make it better every year.

    Out here in the real world, customer service from corporations started getting worse in 1980, got worse again when voice-response systems came in around 1990, worse again when the web hit in 1995. And of course the outsourcing of the task to countries where the CSR's don't actually speak American English and have no cultural commonality with the people they are supposed to get off the phone within 23 seconds. Excuse me, the people they are supposed to /help/.


  5. suzula: Furloughs and staff shortages may indeed be part of the problem, I don't know. But I think the root cause is the lack of a customer service orientation, which is an inherent risk in the public sector (and this is why Cranky's point is not germane, you can always take your business elsewhere in the private sector, but you have no such options in the public sector and the system "knows that" and will always be tempted to slide accordingly into poor customer service).

    One thing that has been done in substance use disorder treatment very successfully is to have the director of a program try to get care as a patient. It's an eye-opener when they experience the rudeness, complexity of forms, longs waits etc. The DMV could make every office manager go to the nearest office and pose as someone trying to get a license or exam or whatever and then record what happens. They would notice many things easily improved with almost no money (e.g., as I said above a sign on posterboard, some colored tape on the floor, an excel program). But you wouldn't think to do this unless you started with the presumption that the customer's experience mattered, and the fact that people have no choice in where they get their DMV services cannot excuse poor quality of service.

  6. @ Keith Humphreys

    you can always take your business elsewhere in the private sector

    Well, not necessarily. Many people don't have a lot of power to choose their health insurer, and often not their health care provider either. You may not get to choose your cable provider, your local phone company, or even your wireless provider if you need a good signal in some poorly covered spot or inssit on a particular handset. You do get to choose Windows or Mac, where to buy your car, where to buy your furniture, or the like – but by the time you're involved with unhelpful support personnel you've made your purchase and you're pretty much stuck. That's your computer, your car, or your sofa, and while you might not buy from the same vendor again you won't be buying another for years and years. A reputation for inferior customer service might affect the vendor over time, but often not quickly, and except extreme cases I'd guess this effect on the company's sales will be trumped by other factors: prices, features, locations, etcetera.

  7. @Warren Terra

    Of COURSE there are going to be times when you cannot change private providers; that's not the point. With the Gov't you have NO option. Which, as Mr. Humphreys points out correctly, ALWAYS leads to poorer service, regardless of public or private.

    All I can say about CA DMV, is, look around for another DMV office far away from LA or any major city. I have seen DMV employees wave people who cannot see the eye chart around to the back of the counter, so you know they're more helpful (Santa Rosa DMV, I'm looking at you.)

  8. @ John

    Which, as Mr. Humphreys points out correctly, ALWAYS leads to poorer service, regardless of public or private.

    This is somewhat true – although it's also the case that government employees work for you, or at least for an administration accountable to you. Doesn't happen in practice, maybe. Still, you have at least as much power to get your politicians to reform the DMV as you have to get Microsoft to offer proper tech support.

    All I can say about CA DMV, is, look around for another DMV office far away from LA or any major city

    My (not unduly pleasant, but hardly awful and relatively efficient) experience was in the Pasadena DMV – so basically in LA, or at least in greater LA. Humphreys works at Stanford; if he lives nearby, the DMV he went to is likely in a less dense, more upscale area. Usually that would mean better service. Still, it's always possible that more services are available (if not in so friendly a manner) in the more dense areas.

    My previous experiences were with the DMV in Boston, and those were actually quite good. The reservation system was online and efficient, you could see online how long the lag was for walk-ins between a number being issued and it being called (broken down by type of service), and the physical segregation of people needing different services was easier to understand. Also, I didn't need to take a written exam to transfer my out-of-state license.

  9. Huh. Took me two weeks back when Young Jerry Brown was governor. But that was before Pete Wilson started destroying the State. My pet peeve was education, my university went from 5th in the country in my major to not-ranked. A huge fall, one that it'll never make up. And, now, apparently, pretty much the rest of government has gone that way. All hail Ronald Reagan, Pete Wilson and Ahnold… Bringing the banana republic to America, one crushed dream at a time…

  10. I don't know about this particular transaction, but many CA vehicle transactions can be done at

    AAA. I bought a motorcycle last year and had the whole transaction consummated at AAA, without

    ever setting foot in the DMV.

  11. +1 for Warren Terra's points.

    It's not lost on me that the industries he lists as being terrible for customer service overrepresent state endorsed monopoly/oligarchy industries. Providing customer service in poorly or non competitive industries boils down to collective action problems in the long run, which in turn boil down to culture and human capital problems. We ain't doing so good on the culture and human capital fronts.

  12. @ Warren

    You may not get to choose your cable provider, your local phone company, or even your wireless provider if you need a good signal in some poorly covered spot or insist on a particular handset.

    This isn't parallel because you can choose not to have these things, no one takes some of your income by sovereign power as a "cable tax" and then legally mandates you to access cable or else face penalties, but that's what government does with the DMV. I have worked in government for decades and I believe in the great good it can do, but it is simply not accurate to say that the amount of choice government gives the citizenry even approaches what a private sector market does.

  13. @Warren, I'm also in Pasadena, so my SoCal standard of unhelpfulness is the Rosemead office: 4 trips of 4+ hours each to register 2 vehicles from NY. Another one when my son bought a car.

    You continue to avoid or miss the point: that I have NO choice when it comes to Gov't offices. So they MUST be called to account, because no market forces apply directly, and we don't vote the DMV commisioner into office. And if I don't like Microsoft, there's always Apple or Linux.

    @EKR, AAA helps a lot, but there are many things they cannot do (or couldn't, anyway, it's been 4 years). Among those things is registering a vehicle from out-of-state.

  14. ". . . have the director of a program try to get care as a patient. It’s an eye-opener when they experience the rudeness, complexity of forms, longs waits etc. The DMV could make every office manager go to the nearest office and pose as someone trying to get a license or exam or whatever and then record what happens. They would notice many things easily improved . . . "

    What you are describing is management responsibility, or if you like, the responsibility of the powerful elite for the powerless.

    As you correctly observed, the powerless employees are as much victims as the "customers". I suspect that most DMV Office Managers are very nearly powerless, as well.

    Your faith in choice and consumer sovereignty in the American private sector is touching, but seriously misplaced. I had to call my credit card company the other day, worried that I might have fallen victim to a scam, and while I waited for "customer service" Bank of America tried to scam me with an offer to "insure" my credit card balance (against job loss, etc.)! Retail sales are promoted with rebates, requiring complicated paperwork, payable in debit cards — the only purpose of the paperwork and the debit cards is to create opportunities to fail to pay the promised rebates. Errors at the supermarket scanner, errors and phony "taxes" on my phone bill, extended warranties . . . one could go on and on.

    The DMV system is completely crazy, but the real craziness is deeper than the paperwork shuffle. We could have no-fault auto insurance, paid for by registration fees and gas taxes, which no one could escape, and the State could buy a handful of group liability policies (from private insurers) to cover everyone in the State. Then, the paperwork would serve, efficiently, a serious economic purpose. But, instead, we have the great customer service (and annoying ads) of the private sector, at a greatly increased cost, plus the significant risk that the other driver — despite the requirements of the law, so poorly enforced by the insane DMV bureaucracy — will be uninsured. Of course, you get the option from your private sector insurer, to buy additional(!), expensive(!) insurance to cover that possibility!

  15. Well, over here in the deepest of red states it took me 30 minutes to get a new driver's license and 20 minutes to get a new tag for the car after I moved from another red state, where my experience was similar. Both offices were full of people doing the same but we were moved through without delay. The driver's license is good for 10 years; didn't have to take a test to prove I know what the speed limit is or to show I can parallel park. I can renew my vehicle registration by mail for a $1 surcharge ($5 on the intertoobz…go figure). Much as I love San Francisco, you can have it.

    @Moses: You left out Jarvis and Gann.

  16. I have to say, I recently had to deal with the Pasadena DMV. I didn't have an awful experience like Mr Humphreys did, but I can confirm that the place was very poorly thought out and just generally unpleasant. It especially surprised me after my easy and pleasant experiences at the DMVs in New Orleans where I grew up–when your public services are being seriously outdone by what's basically a Caribbean banana republic you have problems.

  17. Here in Maryland the MVA (analog to the DMV) works reasonably well, in my experience. Not great, but an hour or so to renew a license. When we moved from out of state and had to get new license plates for 2 cars and 2 driver's licenses, the whole experience was about 2 hours. Probably because our state politics, while notoriously corrupt, isn't actual broken like California's.

  18. I can't say DMV in Illinois is a fabulous process but it isn't too bad. One reason: it's under the Secretary of State's office, and he's allowed to personalize the place — his name and portrait are prominently displayed in every location. That makes being Secretary of State in Illinois a reasonable springboard for even higher office , because it builds fantastic name recognition. Everyone in Illinois knows who the Secretary of State is.

  19. How many years has the California GOP been campaigning on demonization of state employees and services? I think O'Rourke's maxim is important here.

  20. Not all public services are horrible, so why is this one so bad? Americans seem to whine constantly about the DMV, so what's specific to the process of registering motor vehicles that's problematic? From a British point of view, the thing that stands out is that you've got to *go to the DMV* rather than just filling out a bunch of forms and sending them in. This is the sort of stuff that you go to any post office to pick up the forms for, or (I presume) now do on the web.

    A counterexperience; at the end of 2009 I travelled to the US for the first time since 1994. My expectations of going through border control could not have been lower, and I fully expected to wait for hours, be interrogated, experience a great deal of rudeness and bureaucratic obstruction. Actually, it was remarkably painless and both civil and efficient. I noticed that they went to some trouble to explain the exact details of the process well before you reached the desk and also to be clearly friendly. Current British border controls are much less polite and certainly don't say "Welcome to the United Kingdom" at any point rather than "UK BORDER" in big letters.

  21. Our legal domicile is in South Dakota, as we travel full-time in an RV. All vehicle-related issues can be handled by mail or via the Internet, with the assistance of very helpful people on the phone if that's needed. The only exception is that you have to show up to get your driver's license, and again every 5 years to renew it, as they haven't yet set up any system of extensions. But the licensing bureau is friendly and helpful and they try to be expeditious, even when the Feds mandated production of various forms of ID and they had to explain over and over to people what new requirements had to be followed.

    There is evidence everywhere that public agencies can (and do) do things, as Keith mentions, that don't cost money but which make people's visits easier, and that public employees can be required to adhere to minimum standards of courtesy. Surely the manager of an individual office has the latitude to clearly mark the space, and to spend time with each employee as they do their jobs to make sure they're giving accurate and courteous service! If there are managers and offices, struggling with the same budget issues, which manage to provide reasonably good service, then clearly there's more wrong than 'just' funding issues – which I agree are bad enough.

    As a former Californian, it still floors me (and pains me) that the state which really was golden in many ways has been allowed…no, even pushed into its current decline by residents who benefited greatly from its good days, but who appear not to have a clue what made the lives of so many of its people better than they would have been in most other states. They systematically cut off more and more pieces, and when things decline, they declare things 'aren't working' and they must need to cut off yet more pieces!

  22. Missouri has some private DMVs and some run by the state, and my experience has been that the state-run ones are more pleasant and more efficient, but that may be that they tend to be in the smaller towns where the franchise is too unprofitable to attract bidders.

  23. A couple decades ago the Mass. RMV was reformed from a system much like what Prof. Humphreys described to a much more friendly, efficient and computerized agency. My only beef with Mass. is that the state uses the RMV's efficiency as way to siphon off fees from the "profits" of that efficiency to fund other things. But I rarely had to stand in lengthy lines for RMV business for many years. Service was good.

    Sadly, I moved to Conn. and there the system is much closer to the California experience. This amazes me. It's like no one from the Conn. DMV has ever walked across the border to see how Mass. does it!

  24. If you'll all permit a bit of hyperbole, none of you has experienced bureaucratic dysfunction until you have tried to communicate with a New York City agency via the city's 311 routing system. Before 311, lodging complaints and arranging for services from the city was painless, quick, and even sometimes pleasurable, as one encountered competent civil servants on occasion.

    Bloomberg should be strung up by his ankles for introducing that miserable, ill-functioning, pointless layer of bureaucracy.

  25. That said, the New York State DMV seems to function very well. Let's hear it for New York's DMV!

  26. California once took 9 months to get me the plates for a used car I bought. Good thing the cop who gave me a ticket for not having plates wrote down the incorrect VIN. I moved to Washington State a few years ago, and registering my car here took all of 5 minutes, ending with them handing me a set of plates. They must get that shocked look from every transplanted Californian when they just hand over a set of license plates after you give them a check.

  27. I think there is some point in noting that some DMVs are better. It is important to criticize government when it fails and praise it when it succeeds (no not carrots and sticks just informing fellow citizens that it can be improved and therefore must be improved). I occasionally deal with the Maryland DMV. I recall a monster line once (although they did have an Australian immigrant employee joking with angry customers as we left so the last memory was pleasant).

    Now they have local offices one of which is conveniently located (on a metro line even) and extremely quick and efficient *and* an employee there pointed out that I should get a new licence not replace the one I lost (I said the DMV is competent not that I am competent) since it cost 5$ more and would last 10 years not the remaining 2 years.

    The attentive reader will note that I have not stated the location of this functional not too crowded DMV office. OK citizenship has its responsibilities. It is in Glenmont Shopping center (on the red line). And now it will be jammed with Samefacts readers. But it was wonderful before you people ruined it, believe me.

    I also sometimes deal with the Italian ministry of the interior and, believe me, it's worse than the California DMV. I applied for a new permesso di soggiorno (green card. Years later trying to be modern they texted me a summons to an appointment (at a police station). There was no explanation of why I was summoned. I wasn't too scared when I got there to be told that the office was closed, that the ministry sent me the text message and I would have to come back the next day. On the next day, I found out that the point was to take my finger prints (one gets forms at a Questura, applies at a post office, then most people have to go back to the questura to be fingerprinted). Finally I was told I was in the wrong office.

    However, when police check my papers (as they have the authority to do just as in Arizona) they don't deport me but just find that I don't have them and send me on my way, so there is that.

    Also the local government office for services for the public in Monte Compatri (RM) is even better than the Glenmont MD DMV.

  28. I also sometimes deal with the Italian ministry of the interior and, believe me, it’s worse than the California DMV.

    I recall having to register (anmelden) at an Austrian police station, which was no fun at all. (lots of questions, lots of sitting about in 30 degree heat in a windowless charge office under an official portrait of President Thomas Klestil.) I left the country several times without bothering to register-out (abmelden) and nobody seemed to notice.

  29. I dealt with the Oakland DMV for years, and I didn't have any of these problems. I would always make an appointment online, and I never had to wait more than a week, usually only a day or two. The appointment line was clearly marked and separate from the non-appointment line. The keno screens had wait times for the next call posted by them, and I never had to wait more than five or ten minutes for my number to come up. In person, the people were helpful, quick, and I was always able to get in and out with a minimum of fuss and muss.

    In fact, the only time that the Cali DMV has been a pain in the neck was when I was in Washington and realized I'd lost my title and we had to deal with Sacramento from afar. That sucked. But in person? I absolutely give props to the Oakland DMV.

  30. I never mnail in out of state registration paperwork or anything time sensative. If you would have walked that paperwork in with the smog they needed. You would have walked out with Plates the same day. Offices tell you to mail paperwork in an attempt to shorten wait times. HQ in sacramento takes forever and anymistakes on your part result in the proccess starting over. My advice is the next time a tech at DMV tells you to mail in paperwork, ask them if they mail in paperwork to DMV. If they are honest they will say no.

  31. DMVs are really sensitive to location. The tenth circle of hell used to be the DMV office on Schermerhorn Street in Brooklyn. Made a rush hour subway ride seen roomy.

  32. When we got a used car for my teenage son, about a year ago, the wait at DMV was about an hour. Took about two hours altogether. But they never sent us the title. Sadly, the car got totaled the day after Christmas, just a few weeks ago, during a road to visit relatives. Knowing the insurance company would want the title, as soon as we got home from the trip (completed in a rental car) I rushed over to the El Cerrito DMV here in the Bay Area. I made sure to bring all my warm clothes and a stack of old Economist magazines. But it was New Year's Eve, and the place was empty. I walked up to the desk, unsure of where to stand because there was no line. I sat in a chair for 10 minutes. I got a new title in two minutes after that. They actually send it to me this time. I am still stunned.

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