Does Going to the DMV Hurt Worse Than a Root Canal, or Is It Just Me?

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Some time ago, having just gotten rid of a car, I figured it best to turn in my plates and get that magnanimous refund from NY State for the registration fee on my erstwhile means of transportation.  Being somewhat “unplugged” from the typical goings-on at the Department of Motor Vehicles, I decided to drop by on a Friday afternoon, the last Friday afternoon of the month to be exact. A mistake. A BIG mistake.

You see, on the last day of the month, there apparently is a big rush to get things done at the DMV.  Well, there’s a big rush for the customers.  The people working at the DMV frankly didn’t seem all that rushed.  And that’s from whence the question that titles this essay emanates.  First, let’s recap my visit.

Arrival:  1415 hours (That’s 2:15pm for those who are military-time-challenged.)

Obtaining of Ticket:  1455 hours  (That’s 40 minutes later.)

Visit with Cashier:  1525 hours (That’s 30 minutes after that.)

Departure:  1530 hours (That’s 5 minutes later still.)

Yes, it took me 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to accomplish a 5-minute task at the DMV.  For those unfamiliar with this incredibly demeaning scenario, allow me to explain some of the subtleties.  When one arrives at the DMV, at least in my county, he is met with a line that leads to an “information counter.”  This is where they tell you where you need to go next, what forms you have to fill out before you get there, and where they also—in a stroke of bureaucratic genius—give you a ticket with a number on it.  This number corresponds to an electronic display that provides a sort of visual presentation of the “Next!” one hears at the barber shop.  On the ticket is the number for which you should look, and an estimate of how long you’ll be waiting.  You may then go to any one of the fine church-style pews to sit and wait.  Hopefully, you brought a book.

In essence then, one has waited in a line that is not hidden to wait in a line that is hidden.

The punch line:  All of this is an improvement—a vast improvement—over what used to happen at the DMV.  I’m not saying it was bad.  It was worse than bad.  If one was smart, he showed up with a lunch box, or at least a snack.  Standing on line for an hour or so on an empty stomach is tough!  Plus, once one got to the counter, he was faced with a person who himself was pissed off to be there.  A disgruntled worker meeting a disgruntled customer does not a recipe for statist happiness make.

Here’s what I’m trying to figure out:  If I had a choice of vendors for this service, would it still be so terribly inefficient and, frankly, crappy?  I don’t think it requires a degree in, or even an understanding of, Austrian Economics to emphatically declare, “No.”

7:42 pm on October 16, 2010
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