If ever there were a place that is a study in inefficiency and exasperation, it is the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Thomaston. This is not because the workers there are anything but friendly and efficient. The workers I observed were actually remarkably even-tempered and professional in their dealings with a long line of frustrated motorists, all of whom had endured long waits before they made it to the front of the line to take care of their business. The inefficiency and exasperation arose from the frustration of seeing how preventable the long waiting could be, if only some thought had been given to the procedures instituted in that waiting room.
Last week, I arrived at this place to undertake the very routine registering of a new car. There was nothing unusual about the process. While I waited for a full hour and 40 minutes to accomplish this simple transaction, I observed quite a few other individuals undertaking similarly standard procedures. In fact, of the 22 people in line ahead of me, only two seemed to have out-of-the-ordinary business to accomplish.
Despite the fact that most of the people who came to that office needed to undertake routine trans-actions, there was no handout telling them what forms to fill out, or what fee to pen in on their checks. This meant that every time anyone at long last made it to the front of the line, the clerk had to give the person the paperwork, explain what to fill out, and wait while paperwork and the check were filled out. If there had been paperwork and instruction sheets available for registering a car, paying for a new driver’s license, or any other standard transaction, it was clear that the vast majority of this paperwork and check writing could have been accomplished while people were waiting for their turns to see the clerks.
Almost everyone of the crowd of people in the office on the day I was there could have arrived at the window with this time-consuming work completed, all ready to spend just a few moments accomplishing the transaction. Instead, as I observed along with everyone else in the room, no single transaction took less than 12 minutes, and most took 15-17 minutes each.
In addition, it soon became clear that the overworked clerks in the understaffed office also had to answer phone calls from the public, asking everything from directions to the office to complicated queries about how to renew a license from a military base overseas. It seemed unbelievable that these calls could not be referred to some central call center, but this was apparently not possible.
Many of those waiting with me were rolling their eyes to the ceiling or shaking their heads. One man piped up to say he routinely budgeted a sick day from work to take care of motor vehicle transactions, because it was his experience that this was always a bottomless time sink.
It is always easier to be positive about waiting when the wait is necessary. I would bet everyone was glad to hear the soldier’s question answered, even if he did not stand in line with the rest of us to wait his turn. And no one would have be-grudged someone personal instruction on filling out a form if it was needed. But the vast majority of those waiting in that office easily could have prepared paperwork and checks if only the opportunity had been given. This would have made life easier for everyone concerned, including the employees at that office.