Free Minds & Free Markets

Reader Participation: America's Worst DMVs

The Reason brain trust is thinking about doing a feature on America's worst Departments of Motor Vehicles. If you've had an especially unpleasant experience at a DMV and would like to nominate it, please send us your story, either by e-mailing me or by posting it in the comments.

We'll need contact information, so don't post a tale you'd like us to use without including a working e-mail address.

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  • ||

    I think the story is a good idea. But I think somthing that would throw everyone off is if you guys did like a top 10 list of things that the government has done RIGHT. Things like the Helium Privatization Act, stuff like that. Just a thought. Please don't deactivate me.

  • ||

    I went to the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicle Safety at the end of May to transfer my license to Georgia from New Jersey. I arrived at their location in Sandy Springs, GA at about 2p, assuming that 3 hours would surely be enough time to make it through the infamous long lines before closing. I brought my laptop with me so I could, hopefully, get some work done so the time wouldn't be completely wasted. I got my number and sat down next to an electrial outlet and plugged in the laptop. A MVS employee, in the nastiest tone possible, ordered me to immediatly unplug my laptop from the wall with no explanation.

    After waiting for 3 hours, at 5p sharp it was announced that they'd be closing and that everyone waiting would have to come back on Monday. I asked if they would give those of us (about 30 or 40 people) who have been waiting all afternoon some sort of priority handling on Monday. We were told in no uncertain terms that we would have to get back in line and possibly wait another 3 hours.

  • ||

    Patty & Selma unavailable for comment...

  • ||

    Oddly enough, the Masachsetts RMV is often a model of efficiency -- online forms, branch offices, short lines. But they do have one distinct quirk.

    In order to monitor waiting times, each office has an electronic take-a-number widget and another widget to handle the calling of numbers (so that the intervening time can be measured for performance evaluation).

    The result is that the take-a-number widget in branch offices is frequently placed in an out-of-the-way or outright hidden place, sometimes even behind the counter. You wait in a line, get the head of the line, and are _then_ sent to the take-a-number machine and immediately called. Thus, no matter how long the line, the machine registers zero waiting time.

  • ||

    Well, I have experience of the DMV in the Thompson center in downtown Chicago and also one out in the suburbs near Rte 59. There are long lines to change your license at lunchtime downtown, but for buying a new sticker, etc., I have never had a problem. As an immigrant I was also amazed that I could just turn up (at the suburban location) and take my eye test, written and practical driving test right there and then all in the space of about 2.5 hours, without needing to book!

  • ||

    Gotta agree with Grant, my experiences with the DMV in Mass is probably the most painless I've had - and that's including the ones in the UK/Germany and others in the US.

  • ||

    This isn't ness. painful but the DMV near me in PA isn't open on Mondays. How is a DMV closed on every Monday?

  • ||

    I'll not only agree that the RMVs in Massachusetts are convenient and efficient, I'll admit that it was the Republicans that made them so.

  • Jeff||

    The Connecticut DMV, which used to be a hellish place, has become virtually painless. Recent visits for license renewals and replacement plates have lasted under 15 minutes.
    However a few years back the DMV, apparently fed up with its chronic turnover of pens, installed a pen vending machine. If you asked for a pen the DMV rep would direct you to the machine.
    The pens cost 25 cents, the machines only took quarters, and the DMV did not dispense change.

  • Paul||

    I had an interesting probem when I tried to renew my Texas drivers license. I was told I could not renew it because my Massachusetts license was flagged in 1997 because they had heard from New York that I was driving without insurance. Actually, I had moved from New York to Connecticut, and therefore cancelled my NY insurance. Somehow, NY got the idea that I had moved to NJ (where I never lived). I had to get NY to acknowedge that I did have insurance until I moved to CT, then get CT to acknowedge I had insurance until I moved to MA. Massachusetts finally bought this, but said I had to have a valid license in MA in order for them to remove the flag and send a cleared letter to Texas, so would I please send them the renewal fee. I had moved to Texas in 1996. Fortunately, the MA license would have still been good in 1997 had I not turned it in when I got my TX license. Finally, everyone was happy.

    I had to deal with 3 DMVs long distance. It was not fun.

  • MrBungle||

    I agree that RMV's in Mass have vastly improved. Just don't go to the one in's smelly.

  • ||

    At the New York State DMV location near Wall Street, I recently filled out a learner's permit application, took the written test and the eye exam, all in under one hour before work [I start at 10am].

  • ||

    I think the 32nd St DMV in Manhatten is the worst in the world as far as wait times, but my annoying story involves the SF DMV. I got a letter that I needed to show my proof of insurance to get my tags, since I had already paid. Armed with my proof of insurance and the letter, I waited 3 hours until I was finally called up. I went there, showed the lady the letter and the proof of insurance and then she said, "You have an unpaid parking ticket, I can't renew your registration, until you pay $38." I looked in my wallet and had exactly $30. I asked if they took credit card. Nope.

    Fortunately, there's a branch of my bank right across the street. Unfortunately, it was after 5 and the officer and the DMV lady said that I would have to come back the next day and wait 3 hours to renew it. Any of the following situations would have been nice (a) being informed that a parking ticket payoff was needed as well (I never got mailed the parking ticket notice, FU City of Long Beach) (b) Being allowed to run out for less than 60 seconds to hit the ATM and grab money or (c) The DMV taking credit cards!!!! Why can I pay for my registration online with a credit card, but I can't pay at the DMV with one. Argh!

    Ditto what Grant and joe said, the Mass RMV is great. They have branches in the mall and it took me less than 20 min to get a temp license.

  • ||

    Hmm, gee, must have been a slow budget meeting after a long night of drinking.

    Anybody got story ideas?

    Yeah, let's figure out the worst DMV experience in the country?

    Aw, no that would take shoe leather and reporting.

    Screwit, lets just ask the readers.

    The Reason Brain Trust in action. Thesis first. Facts to be fixed around it.

  • ||

    In California you can call in and make an appointment to go to the DMV -- only five minutes of waiting if you can afford not getting into the DMV for 2-3 weeks.

  • ||

    Also, a piece of advice for Californians. Don't register to vote at the DMV. When I did that my registration never took. According to the lady that gave me my provisional ballot, this happens alot. You're better off registering at the post office or at one of the voter registration drives.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Thesis first. Facts to be fixed around it.

    What "thesis" is that?

  • digamma||

    I'll break ranks here.

    The one in Lebanon NH is a dream. There is almost never a "line" of more than one person. The guy who takes photos and handles forms jokes with you. If you're missing a piece of documentation, they're happy to explain what you need to do, not just give you runaround.

    In Vermont, there's a "DMV on Wheels" that comes to the smaller towns every two weeks. They set up shop inside the VFW or some other community organization's quarters, and they do everything a normal DMV does. And they're very good-humored.

    I <3 the DMV.

  • ||

    The thesis that floor-humping is a good thing?

  • ||

    I don't actually know why the DMV has such a bum rep. When I was a college student in Oregon, getting my driver's license converted over was about as painless as any bureaucracy I've ever dealt with. They took my pic when i walked in, ushered me to a touch screen terminal for the test. five minutes later i'd passed the test, and as soon as the record showed up on their database, it automatically printed and laminated my license. I was in and out over the course of a lunch hour, with time to stop by burger king and pick up a snack before going back to work.

    Getting it reconverted to California was a bit more scary - in the time between when i'd first gotten my license and when i had to get it replaced back from Oregon, the xenophobic legislature had passed laws requiring proof of citizenship to obtain a Cali license. This was a problem because i was there on the very day it expired, with less than an hour to go, and i wasn't even sure where my birth certificate was. luckily, i had somehow remembered my previous cali drivers license # (don't ask me how) and so the DMV person i was dealing with actually exercised some discretion, said "oh, well in that case it's not a new license, it's a renewal," winked at me, and I was out 10 minutes later with my temporary license, waiting for the shiny new one to arrive in the mail.

  • ||

    Apparently, none of you have experienced the joy of visiting a Minnesota DMV. The state contracts with inept idiots who enjoy screwing you out of your money multiple times so they don't have to pay to fix their mistakes. Example: I was having the title of my car switched over to me as the sole owner. When said title didn't show up after six months, I was told that I would have to pay for the title to be sent again because the lazy asses that work for the DMV do not type in the address you listed on the form, but instead simply enter your driver's license number so as to "punish" those that do not change their address on their license (and yes, punish is a direct quote from the DMV). However, when I went in to renew my driver's license for the specific purpose of changing my address, what does the DMV do? They print me a new license with my old address and send it there. When a person is no longer at a residence, official state mail goes into the dead mail. Needless to say, I did not receive my new license.

    When I went in to get this mistake corrected, I was told I would need to pay the fee a second time because they don't know how to fix their mistakes. They only know how to process the initial applications. Only the state can make corrections, but you can't actually visit the state's DMV offices only their contractors. So I visited three different DMV sites, stood in line or sat on hold for countless hours and had to take time off of work, all to get a license without having to pay for their mistake.

    On a positive note, as the state budget has not yet passed in MN, these idiots will be out of work on Friday when the DMV closes its doors until further notice.

  • ||

    I go to the DMV at 125th and Lex in NYC and it takes the predictable 3 hours to get anything done. And Seinfeld's assertation that only 5 percent of people are good looking because, "have you been the Department of Motor Vehicles lately?" But right across the hall from the DMV is the traffic violations office and courts. And somehow it only takes 2 minutes for me to get to a teller, pay 70 dollars and get a printed receipt. So apparently when it comes to making money they can be efficient if they want to.

  • ||

    I had a weird "DMV" experience. Despite the fact that I'm an American citizen, I was forced to "register" with a "state government" to obtain a "license" to "operate" a "motor vehicle."

    All I wanted to do was provide transportation for myself using this piece of metal, vinyl and rubber I bought at a place called Allen Smith Chevrolet. But then somebody told me the state plays with semantics and claims that my right is actually a "privilege" it has to give me. So not only was I forced to "license" myself, at the mercy of the state, I was forced to "license" my piece of metal, vinyl and rubber.

    Very bizarre!

  • ||

    I would just like to put in another pro vote for the MA RMV. In fact, I feel bad because my wife and I actually locked down some computers at the RMV our first visit, because the computer system used in the Chicagoland area was apparently incompatible with the MA system. Had to make a second visit after certain paperwork was processed by hand. The second visit took less than an hour.
    For the record, my suburban Chicago experience (Skokie? Or somewhere further out that way?) was also relatively painless. Mostly I remember that their air conditioning was deficient.
    I'm just enjoying all of the DMV suggestion this thread has generated (as it did the last time it was mentioned). This is all useful info, like the best pizza in town and reliable local plumber references.


  • ||

    i had a pretty good time down at the varick st. DMV for my non-drivers ID thingy a few years back (which, of course, must be renewed in person, which is why mine is expired). joked around with the woman who was taking my photo, as we were both bald and she was having trouble getting my head in the shot (it's a bit oversized).

    i did commit a dmv faux pas - if you see a guy at the counter with a masonic ring on, don't make a joke about expecting to get "the 33rd degree" if your paperwork isn't in proper order. he won't think it's funny in the slightest.

  • ||

    Ok, I think it's time you guys did a positive article on the DMV - seems we have plenty of votes to zoom in on the Massachusetts one.

  • ||

    SP's comment reminds me of how my grandmother got her first DL: she mailed $0.25 to the state and they mailed her a DL. No test etc.

    It's a libertarian joke about doing away with licensing, but I wonder if it would really have a noticeable effect.

  • ||

    >>It's a libertarian joke about doing away with licensing, but I wonder if it would really have a noticeable effect.

  • ||

    Alright, for balance, my experiences at NJ DMVs was always quite slow, but I pretty much put that up to living in a densely populated state. I'm sure inefficiency played a part in it. But this was evened out by the informal teenage network concerning quick-n-easy places to take your learner's permit/driver's license driving tests. The foolish kid who went to Newark had a street test (instead of a DMV "course") and nearly hit a woman with a trash can, pinball-style.

    Maybe we all just tend to forget bad (but not good-story-at-a-libertarian-dinner-party-horrible) experiences at the DMV because most of them just involve the process being slow, and we pretty much expect that to be par for the course. Kind of like airline boarding procedures.


  • ||

    I'll have to go with Indianapolis for a drivers license. Complete chaos, I seem to remember them handing me off to 3-4 people. One for each individual task. I was there for 2-3 hours with every screaming baby in the city. I wasn't even doing the driving part, I just needed to take a written test.

    Best experience was probably my current small town in Alabama. Walked in around 9:00 walked out about 9:04.

  • Woooo||

    I recently renewed my driver's license in Texas. It was short and easy. After waiting for hours in Texas DMV offices in the past only to speak with a rude clerk, I was impressed with the efficency and the professionalism.

  • ||

    Subject: Michigan "Secretary of State"

    I moved from New Jersey to Michigan two years ago. I went to the DMV (Sec. of State) to change my license and registration. I had in hand: current NJ license; social security card; passport; official birth certificate; NJ registration; proof of insurance; marriage certificate and divorce decree. I also had my car's title, which was a lucky thing since Michigan requires this and most other states I've lived in don't.

    The above documentation was not enough to get me a license. You see, Michigan had recently tightened up their rules because apparently they had one of the easiest licenses to forge. So I had to prove residency.

    Problem with that is that I needed to write a local check to get an apartment.

    And the problem with THAT is that the banks were in on the collusion. Despite having a $1000 cashier's check in hand, I was unable to open a bank account in Michigan. Why?


    I went back and forth between bankers and DMVs for THREE DAYS and finally exploded at the woman at the DMV:

    "It's impossible to move to this state! I'm just going to pack my stuff up and drive back to Jersey!!"

    (Finally I convinced a local bank to open an account by using a friend's gas bill. Now THAT's improved security!)

  • J.D. Tuccille||

    The Massachussetts RMV may be efficient now, but when I was going to college in Worcester in the '80s a trip to the registery was a tour through hell -- long lines, wrong lines, and clerks working 15 feet from each other who wouldn't share information.

    Fortunately, the fact that the RMV was staffed by the living dead worked in my favor. Back then, the registery issued liquor IDs for people who wanted to buy booze but didn't have a driver's license. The drinking age had just risen nationally to 21, and I'd been drinking legally in NY. I was 18 and had an out-of-state license, so I altered my old-fashioned birth certificate, and went to the registry for a liquor ID.

    The clerk suspected something was up (an 18-year old who doesn't drive?) so she passed the buck to her superior. I was led to an office where two guys who I'm pretty sure were half in the bag (it was after lunch) were shooting the breeze. One of them glanced at my documents, shrugged, and stamped the application.

    Off I went with my ID.

  • ||

    Oh, the Michigan DMV. No thesis there, let me assure you...

  • Morat||

    Well, it didn't happen to me, but to a friend of mine at the Texas DMV.

    He got married, and he and his wife decided that instead of her taking his last name they were going to do some complicated shuffling of last and middle names, the net result was that both he AND his wife needed to legally change their names.

    So they traipse off to the DMV right after their marriage to do it. His wife finishes up in about 10 minutes, but they refuse to change his -- claiming it's against the law.

    So I go look up Texas law on the subject, which is -- surprisingly -- fairly clear on the subject. (Actually, reading it indicates that at SOME point the law specified the wife can change her name within some time-limit after the marriage, but was later amended to turn "wife" into "spouse" to specifically allow either the husband or the wife to do so).

    So he prints up the correct law, takes it down to the DMV, where they once again refuse to change his name. (This is around noon the next day).

    So he calls his local Texas state congressman and talks to a staffer...the staffer gets back in a few hours and says "Your reading of the law is absolutely correct. They MUST change your name per Texas law, and we've put in a call to the DMV you went to and told them so.".

    So he goes down again at 4:30 on a Friday. And they refuse to change his name. They even have the guy in charge of the place come out there and tell him they won't do it, and to stop trying.

    So he goes home and calls the Congressman again. The staffer is FURIOUS, and apparently the Congressmen himself contacts someone high up in the DMV. So my friend gets a call at 4:55 on a Friday and told to go back to the DMV and that they damn well WOULD process his name change before they were allowed to close.

    My friend gets there at 5:10, and they have his name changed and he's out the door in five minutes.

    He says they wouldn't even look him in the eye.

  • ||

    OK now that I have my Michigan horror off my chest, I would also like to add that so far the Chicago area DMVs are an absolute dream. Helpful, fast, and though they don't take credit they DID let me go to the front of the line after I went to the ATM.

  • ||

    READER PARTICIPATION: America's Worst Corporations

    The Reason brain trust is thinking about doing a feature on America's worst corporations.

    Oh wait, no that's not us. Bad brain. Bad brain.

    We'll lose our Ayn Rand Boy Scout Free Market Badge if we ran anything like that.

    Go free market go!

  • ||

    dude, are you fucking the DMV or something?

    i mean, it's ok, we won't tell them.

  • Jerry Aldini||

    I seem to recall watching something on TV about a "Hank Hill", who had a bugger of a time getting the Texas DMV to change the gender on his license from 'F' to 'M'.

    Anyway, in Alberta the DMV was privatized (still regulated of course) in 1993. There are now at least 6 smaller "registries" in my town of 70,000 instead of one big honkin DMV, and I've never once waited more than 5 minutes in line in that time. They also do stuff like birth certificates etc.

    You would be hard pressed to find a single person who found the change to be negative, apart from the govt employees who were yanked off the teat.

  • Windypundit||

    I just renewed my Illinois license on Elston Avenue in Chicago. There was a desk right as I walked in where they quickly checked that I had all the right paperwork. They sent me to the waiting area with a number. It was lunch time, so I had to wait 45 minutes until they called me up to the counter, but then it was paperwork-cachier-more paperwork-photograph, with no more than a minute or two at each station. I've been there at off-peak times when I just went from station to station as fast as I could walk. It was pretty smooth.

  • ||

    Nitpick: In Texas, it's Department of Public Safety (DPS), not DMV.

  • ||

    Also, a piece of advice for Californians. Don't register to vote at the DMV.

    I'll go you one better: the DMV in Delaware automatically registerd me to vote without ever asking me if I wanted to be registered (I would have said no)...

  • ||

    How is it possible there are not more DMV horror stories? Try it in Georgia! When I went to get my first official driver's license at sixteen, I arrived at 8:00 am, having heard from many of my friends how terrible it was to get through the line. I had my Mother (who had to sign off for me), and every bit of paperwork.

    So I waited. The line was already forty people long at 9 when it opened (some people had begun lining up at 7:45). By lunchtime, I was still waiting outside the building. In three hours they had gone through maybe 15 people. It was June in Atlanta, so everyone was sweating and getting pretty fed up. At noon, the doors shut. They claimed to be taking lunch in shifts, but there weren't enough people to handle everything that needed handling.

    So at 2:30, after each person in the DMV had taken his hour and a half lunch break in his appropriate shift, but never allowing the place to operate with less than five bureaucrats present, the doors opened again.

    I left my mother in line to run forward to see what the problem seemed to be that they had gone through less than thirty people in nearly seven hours, and why they had to shut down at lunch; there were a total of nine people working at the DMV. One lady was taking applications and administering eye exams. One lady was processing the money; one man was taking pictures. Another man was explaining to person after person why what they had was not enough to get them licensed. Still one more person spent his entire time yelling at people in line (that was his entire job). That made up five people; the other four were chatting with one another, eating, sleeping (I kid you not!). Whenever someone had to take a driving exam either the yelling man or the explaining man would go outside and conduct the exam.

    At 4:00, they announced that they would take the next five people in line, but they didn't have time to help more than that before they closed at 5. I was sixth in line. They told my very irate mother that we would have to return the next day, but to arrive earlier to make sure we would be helped.

    We arrived at eight the next morning (I wasn't too upset missing my second day of school) and proceeded to wait until 11:00 before they could get to me. We finally made it inside, processed all the paperwork, took the eye exam, got everything signed: then it turned out they were taking lunch at 11:30 that day, and the man who would give me my driving test was already gone, could we please wait in the next room until he returns in a few hours?

    In all, it took a total of fourteen hours for me to get my license. My mother refuses to ever set foot in a DMV again so my father had to take my sisters to get their licenses.

  • ||

    This isn't bad, but it's amusing. I had just moved back to Denver after spending a few years in Arizona at college. I went into that little DMV office at the end of the 16th Street Mall to get a Colorado license. I had no problems with lines and the staff was, initially, very helpful. I filled out a form and surrendered my Arizona license and they had me stand in front of the camera and get my picture taken. About 5 minutes later they give you your actual license, which is a much better arrangement than having it mailed to you. Problem was when I got the license it was missing the little "M" for a motorcycle endorsement. So I went back to the window and they apologized for the mistake and typed up a new license and I had my picture taken again. This time the "M" was there but my height was listed as 6' 6". I wish! Since I'm about a foot shorter than that I figured the first time I was pulled over the cop would think the license was a forgery, so I asked them to please fix that too. This time they were less apologetic, but they typed up a new one and I had my picture taken a third time. Wait a few minutes for the license to pop out of the machine and this time my height was right but the "M" was missing again. Egad! So I tell them that I don't want to be hassled by the next cop who pulls me over on the bike and thinks I'm riding without a license. Now they're just annoyed with me, but they type up a 4th one and I get my picture taken yet again. This time the thing comes out with the "M" and my correct height but they have my pretty green eyes listed as brown. These people do this for a living! Anyway, I figured if I complained about that they'd just pack me off to jail so I politely thanked them for all their trouble and left. It was a pretty amusing episode for me since there wasn't much waiting involved, but I wonder how it can be that no one else was waiting if this was business as usual.

  • ||

    I have been trying years (effectively!) to block out all of my unpleasant governmental bureaucratic experiences with alcohol. I think it works, because I can't think of any awful DMV stories I experienced, at least off the top of my head. (Although I do tremble a bit when I try to recollect, so I assume there must have been some past DMV trauma that I succeeded in erasing from my cranial mush.)

    Why don't you ask me about Dell computers' help line instead? I suffered a severe mental breakdown once in complete exasperation of their torturously slow telephone "service".

  • ||

    Jeremiad: Go free market go!

    Wow, there's a damning critique for you. Imagine, a magazine with the slogan Free Minds and Free Markets might actually support, well... free markets!

    Of course if you actually read this site you'd know that no one here is at all reluctant to criticize anyone or anything, yes, even including corporations.

    Anyway, back on topic - For the most part I would concur with many of those that have had relatively good experiences. The DMV here in Oregon is much improved and usually not too bad to deal with. However, though their "customer" service has certainly improved, their behind the scenes management has not - witness the computer system upgrade fiasco of a few years back which resulted in tens (perhaps hundreds) of millions of dollars of cost over-runs for something the private sector does routinely.

  • ||

    If there's a story here, I think it's how at least some states (e.g., Mass.) have substantially improved their DMVs by applying some blunt libertarian thinking to the problem. ("Does requiring X to be done every year instead of, say, every five years add any value?" "Is there any reason we can't do 99% of this by mail?" etc.)

  • ||

    Ok, two stories. One good, one bad. This the DMV in Lawrence, KS.

    Bad: Like most offices our DMV is open only during the times when no one can go to it. I called the office to find their closing time. I can't remember what business I had, but it was very short.
    I showed up 30 mins before closing, and sat in the line of chairs. Then I realized they were calling numbers. No big deal, there aren't many people here. Then I realized I couldn't get a number if I wanted one. It turns out they take away the numbers 30 mins before closing, and will not help you without a number. So in effect, they close 30 mins earlier than they say they do.

    Good: Our new DMV office is in a mostly-abandoned strip mall. The front is all glass. You can drive through the parking lot and see how long the line is, before even getting out of your car.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    You want the stories alphabetically? Or at random?

  • ||

    I haven't had any serious problems with the Minnesota DMV. It's all been straightforward and relatively efficient given the volume of business they do--the renewal lines move much more quickly there than when checking out at a Walgreens.

    It's not problem-free, though. A few years ago, it took them ages and ages to mail out the new licenses, but they've been coming much more quickly now. The new ones include immigration visa expiration dates (ensuring people will have to go back again and again and again to get licenses updated), so I imagine my lines will increase a bit next time I go to renew.

  • ||

    I really respect Reason for doing an article like this. But I have nothing but nice things to say about the Virginia DMV offices in Northern Virginia.

    In the three branches I have been to, everything is first routed through an information booth, which issues a number. You then sit and wait, usually for about 15-20 minutes depending on when you arrive during the day, and then when your number is called, you go to a teller and transact your business.

    I had a driver's licence reissued with a new photo, total elapsed time about 30 minutes. I had to get a copy of my driving record, and they issued it at the info booth. Time from walking in the door to when I left--incredibly, five minutes.

    I hate to say it, in the last 10 years Va. DMV finally got it right. I remember horrendous waiting lines when I first got my license 20 years ago. I'd rather go to a private company that issues real driving licenses, but if the State has to do it, they've made it tolerable.

    About the worse line I have ever read about was a person wanting to register a firearm in the District of Columbia. Here's the poor chap's saga:

    Now if you want to write about US Postal Service lines, you'll have the story you want to write. Those bloody things are endless...

    Arlington, VA

  • ||

    The Missouri DOR(Dept. of Revenue) farmed out a lot of their license renewal offices to the politically connected with mixed results in the St. Louis area. Driver license renewal required a long wait but went smoothly, plus they increased the renewal interval from 3 to 6 years. Renewing the plates for your vehicle is best described as torture. You need the renewal notice, personal property tax receipt, emmission inspection, mechanical inspection, proof of insurance and now proof of citizenship. There's nothing like waiting in line for an eternity and at the moment of truth when you're finally waited on discovering you're missing one of the required documents. No license plates for you. There is a machine that dispenses a numbered tag assigning your place in line, but its strictly optional at the place I visited. After waiting for 45 minutes my number was getting near. Then I watch some schmuck just waltz in through the door and approached a clerk at the counter who for some reason waited on him. Finally my number was called by a clerk who was trying to converse with me while at the same time cram handfuls of potato chips in her mouth. Truly awe inspiring service.

  • ||

    In Georgia, I once made the mistake of temporarily misplacing my license which meant that I had to take a number to wait in a line to find out what I was there for so that I could get another number to wait in another line to process my paperwork after which time I had to wait about an hour for the new license to print. All told about 3 hours but the multiple deli-style number dispensing machines is the kicker - especially since you can easily renew your license on-line but god-forbid you misplace the license because then you are in need of punishment apparently.

    Separately, I wonder if anyone here knows what happens if you live 99% in one state but have an out-of-state license.

  • ||

    My experience in Virginia when I lived there was remarkably pleasant. Quick, easy, and all my questions were answered and all my problems were resolved.

    Moving back to New Jersey, was hell. It took me three trips to get my license switched from VA to NJ. The DMV was so bad in NJ that a few years ago they chaged the name to Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC)as if the name change would make it better.

  • ||

    In my experience, a typical visit to the post office is more hellish than any time I've spent at the DMV. If you're looking for tales of woe, maybe the brain trust should broaden its scope.

  • ||

    I would concur that the DMVs in MA are models of efficiency. I'm thinking in particular of the one in Boston in Chinatown. An article describing how this came about would be very interesting.

    Having recently moved to Berkeley CA I can say that my personal experience at the DMV wasn't as bad as I expected. However, the cost of registration + license + smog certificate >>> what it would have cost in MA.

  • ||

    All you people saying the PO is worse than the DMV are forgetting the true pit of government inefficiency, the INS. Find me a person that has dealt w/ INS, but doesn't have a horror story/6 hour wait (not named Saud) and I'll show you a person with incriminating photos of high level government officials. At least the DMV's consumer base has minor electoral power. Unless the person dealing with INS is married to a citizen, the INS knows that they can treat the person like shit and that person can't even call a state senator with a credible threat to take their vote elsewhere. The INS' motto should be "Making you feel at home with third world beauracracy and lines that would make Soviets blush."

    I am surprised, that it seems like the call to the readers for horror stories has turned into a call from many readers for "How did MA (of all states) turn their DMV around?" Free markets at work, baby!

  • ||

    Something I learned while standing in line at the Ohio DMV. It is illegal to move and not notify the DMV within 10 days. I think it has something to do with selective service. Jeez, I joined the Navy and moved back in 1985 and I never told the DMV. I hope they don't find out! (I trust you guys/girls won't give me up to 'em)

  • ||

    Wow, quite a few of us have had problems with the DMV! No wonder they are the butt of all jokes about bad customer service, long waits, and fucked up records.

    Ok, my story.

    I got home one day from class at Cal Poly, SLO to find a notice to come pick up a registered letter at the post office. I picked it up and it was from CA State DMV. I opened it to notice that my drivers license had been immediately suspended for missing a third court day in Fresno Municipal Court. I saw on the letter that I was charged with speeding, driving on a suspended license, driving a vehicle with expired tags, and driving without insurance. The letter also said that since I missed 3 court dates, I had a warrant out for my arrest in Kern County, which Fresno is not a part of. Being, at the time, I had never set foot in Fresno, I figured that there must be some mistake at the DMV so I called them, long distance. After a 35 minute hold, a rep answered. She reviewed my file on some computer and said it indeed was me and that if there are mistakes, I had to clear it with Fresno Municipal Court and have them respond to the DMV clearing my name. So I called the Fresno Court, long distance. After being on hold for about 20 minutes this time, a rep told me that I did not exist in their system, there were no records of me having any citations and no record of there ever being a scheduled court appearance let alone 3. I asked how we can have the court contact the DMV clearing my name. They told me since there is no record of me in their system, their is nothing they could tell the DMV, so they can't help me with the DMV.

    So I called back the same DMV rep, after another 20 minute hold, and explained this to her. She said it would be a simple letter saying there was no issue with me with the court. Even though I told her the court wouldn't respond since they have no evidence of this problem, she said they would have to in order to clear my name. So I asked the DMV rep if she could look in her own system to see these few items: I never had a suspended license, never owned a vehicle with expired tags, and I could get my insurance agent to show that I have been fully insured the last 4-5 years without ever missing a payment. She told me no dice, I had to have the court clear me. To this day, I never understood why she couldn't look at my file and figure that out. So I contacted the same person at the court and explained everything the DMV told me. Fortunately for me, the court rep said she just had a bad day at the DMV renewing her license so she would help me. I gave her the name and number of the DMV rep for her to call. About an hour later, I was called and conferenced in. This is where I found out that the drivers license number associated to my case wasn't my license number. When I asked who it belonged too, I was told I wasn't privy to that information. So the conference call did get my name cleared. But I didn't stop there. I asked how can such a mistake be made, especially the warrant thing in Kern County. I wasn't provided a sastisfactory answer so I asked for the DMV rep's immediate manager to be put on the line. The manager said it was a simple mistake and that it would be corrected. When I pressed with asking how this could happen when they could easily see in my file that I never had a suspended license or expired tags, I was told the conversation ends there and that I must submit my complaint in writing.

    I immediately prepared my complaint in writing and sent it with a copy of the original letter informing me of the problems. I never got a response. One month later, I contacted the same manager and was told that it takes several days to review the complaint and determine its "merits." Long story short, after 3 months of no response and getting nowhere with the manager and her lame excuses, I gave up. To this day, I still don't know how the hell that can happen and how many other people have had similar experiences. Oh, and BTW, I had a pretty hefty phone bill and let that DMV manager know, she didn't care. Also, somewhere in my files at home, I still have the letter.

  • ||

    Back in the eighties, the woman who took your license pic at the Allentown, Pennsylvania DMV insisted on everybody smiling! Needless to say these are the kind of people who should be strung up with piano wire and slowly gutted to death with rusty fishhooks.

  • ||

    I am surprised, that it seems like the call to the readers for horror stories has turned into a call from many readers for "How did MA (of all states) turn their DMV around?"

    That's what I'm asking, and also wondering: when?
    I started driving during Dukakis II and remember long, long lines. From '95-'97 I was in upstate NY and have no memory of my DMV experience (which means either it was so good that it wasn't worth remembering or so bad that I've blocked it out). Returning to MA, I definitely remember thinking how easy it was to change back to a MA license. When I later renewed my license they produced it right there! No 2-6 week wait with a paper license.

    Do we thank Weld?

  • ||

    I liked Weld. There's something to be said for less government from the governor because he's lazy. Met him twice through mutual friends and he's a really smart guy and something along the lines of a rather libertarian republican (as opposed to the neocon/theocon type). He was also the last Republican I've voted for locally.

  • ||

    The Missouri DOR(Dept. of Revenue) farmed out a lot of their license renewal offices to the politically connected with mixed results in the St. Louis area. Driver license renewal required a long wait but went smoothly, plus they increased the renewal interval from 3 to 6 years. Renewing the plates for your vehicle is best described as torture. You need the renewal notice, personal property tax receipt, emmission inspection, mechanical inspection, proof of insurance and now proof of citizenship.

    As far as I know, this is true. Except I believe you don't need an emission inspection every year, just every other year.

    I'm afraid I don't have any horror stories. My last experience was pretty good, actually.

    When I went to renew my plates, I knew the girl behind the counter. She previously worked at the Starbucks down the street, where I had a habit of chilling with a mocha after work, reading the paper and chatting with the staff at least once a week, so she knew me. Not only was she pleasant, but she pointed out that the year for the model of my car was wrong on my most recent personal property tax assessment -- they had it as a 2003 car instead of a 2002 car.

    Therefore, the assessed value --- and my tax for that year, which I'd already paid without noticing the error -- was too high. She told me I had to go to the county courthouse to get it fixed and get a refund of the overpayment. Luckily, that was just down the street. I had to wait around for a bit there, but it saved me about $160.

    I attribute my good experience to these things:

    - My schedule was flexible enought that I was able to go to the DMV in the mid-afternoon, instead of peak times like lunch hour or the early a.m.

    - The person behind the counter knew me pesonally.

    - At least some of our DMVs are run by private organizations, as a form of political patronage, I'm told. Although I don't know whether this particular one was. And truthfully, I don't know whether private organizations doing political patronage jobs are all that better incentivized than government employees. Although I guess it's easier to get rid of them if they're screw-ups.

    - I once read in Liberty magazine that the Midwest is the last place to expect any kind of libertarian revolution. While Midwesterners are supposed to have libertarianish values like self-reliance and MYOB, the writer thought, they also tend to be more polite and pleasant than elsewhere in the country -- even the government employees. Therefore, Midwestern governments are less likely to spark the sense of outrage needed for the people to rise up and throw off their statist chains. I wonder if there's anything to that.

  • ||

    I don't need to go to the DMV anytime soon. My Arizona driver license expires in 2034. If I don't start eating better food, my body may expire first.

  • ||

    No horror story here, either. Just a reminder: in Florida it is the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV), although in my experience most folks who have been here for some time just say, "the driver's license place". You do hear "DMV," but mostly from folks who are also willing to tell you how much cheaper things are in New York. I renew my driver's license through the mail. Last issue of the card itself was 1996. Current expiration date is 2008. Supposedly there is an actual physical office somewhere in town. I may need to go there someday. Yes, I do work for the state. No, not for DHSMV.

  • ||

    And, also like Jax said, in FL you get your licence at the "the driver's license place" or Florida it is the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) which is run by the State, but you get your vehicle registration at the "tag office" or The County Tax Collector.

    Some counties are very well run while others are like third world countries. When I lived in Orange County I could mail my tag renewal on Monday and get it back on Wednesday (which reflects well on both the Tax Collector's bureaucracy and the Post Office), and when I went in person to transfer a title I have hardly ever had a long wait in line. But that's usually a function of the time of day.

    I had to renew my licence in person last year. I don't know if it's because I am now officially a geezer or if they just needed me to get an up to date picture. it was not totally unpleasant but it took up more of my time than I wanted to give:)

  • ||

    "The INS' motto should be "Making you feel at home with third world beauracracy and lines that would make Soviets blush.""

    or perhaps "FUCK YOU AND GO HOME."

    the DMV is about as bad as the PO, but the people who wait on line in the PO are worse than DMV customers. there's always at least one "can you fuckin' believe this?" guy in line who blows my mind each and every time.

    yes, sir. i can believe it. we're waiting in line. at a post office. dear lord, can i believe it.

  • ||

    Something I learned while standing in line at the Ohio DMV. It is illegal to move and not notify the DMV within 10 days.

    Uh, oops.

    Good thing I prize my anonymity on H&R (lest any of you "Libertarians" hands me over to my state government). (comment in parentheses was in jest).

  • ||

    there's always at least one "can you fuckin' believe this?" guy in line who blows my mind each and every time.

    When were we in the same PO? I'm that guy, the only thing is that my anger isn't about the slow pace of employees or closed windows, I expect that. It's the customers who take 20 minutes at the window. I've done my share of business at the PO but I've never taken that long and I have no idea what they could be doing. My favorites are the people who walk up with something to mail and hand it to the postal employee, no box, no mailing label, just like a kid handing something over to a parent to take care of or when someone opens the box they are mailing (never a good sign).

  • ||

    ha ha, temujin334. That reminds me of this past weekend when a friend and I were waiting at least an hour in about a 15-person line for food at an amusement park. He kidded that he never understands the people who get to the front of the line after waiting that long and then still haven't decided what they are ordering. When we finally got up to next in line to be waited on, sure enough, there was some white trash momma in a too-tight bathing suit calling to her kids (Bubba and Maverick, to name two of them...I'm sure there were 10 other names she called out in addition to theirs) to ask them what kind of soda they wanted, in a predictably unorganized and haphazard manner.

    People are strange...then again if I were mother to 10+ children, I'd probably be out of my rocker, too.

  • ||

    Sorry...mixing metaphors there; should say off my rocker.

  • ||

    I'm not surprised at all the love tossed at the IL DMV. Under George Ryan, they had a very efficient system whereby even folks who couldn't read or speak English could just pay a fee to an informal facilitator who would get them a CDL, pronto. Then they could drive an insufficiently safe truck up I-94 to Milwaukee, where equipment could break off and cause a van stuffed with a minister and his family to run over it, resulting in a crash that killed 6 kids.

    Of course, if we eliminated licensing and went with private certification of drivers by AAA, driving schools, insurers, etc., a fine public service like this would be unavailable.


  • ||


    people who get to the front of the line after waiting that long and then still haven't decided what they are ordering

    Did you ever see the episode of The Simpsons when Marge has the Pretzel Wagon (selling only pretzels) and all the power plant employees line up? Carl is 1st in line taking his time ordering while Lenny stands there saying "Come on, hurry up". Carl makes his purchase. Lenny moves up and stands there saying "Let me see now, I will, um, I will have, um, I will have a, um, pretzel"

    I had an episode like you this weekend while I was in waiting in line at a drive thru. I worked retail in college and a couple of years after so I have seen my share of odd situations (this is one reason I sometime blame the customer when other people just complain about the employee).

  • ||


    "Let me see now, I will, um, I will have, um, I will have a, um, pretzel"

    Ha, ha! I think I might've seen that episode a long time ago - it definately rings a bell. (That quote is funny also because for all the bitching I do about people like that, I'm sure I've done that at some point or other, too.)

  • cadriver||

    If you have to do anything in person, DMV in California is as least as bad as everywhere else. I was able to renew my license over the Internet this time, but it seems I'll have to go in to take the vision and written tests in five years. Registration renewals can be done my mail, and perhaps by Internet, but the hassle is in getting a smog check every two years.

    See my blog for my beefs with the DMV and California government in general.

  • Thomas||

    My idea two stories, one on the worst, another on the best there seems to be a good mix of both here....

  • ||

    WHile on active duty in the Navy, I was transferred from Charleston, SC to Cleveland, OH. Ireally didn't need to change my DL, as long as I was on Active Duty and out of the state, SC DL was good. Not so with my wife. She needed a OH DL. She "asked" me, as only a wife can, go get yours and then you can tell me about it soI can get mine.
    Off to the DMV I went (In Uniform of course). I took and passed the written test gave my SC Lisense to the lady so she could type up the new OH licsense. Need I say she was older than mud and eglier than sin. And then it happened. My SC Linsense was E X P I R E D !!!!!!!
    Now I would have to take the driving test. I explained to the examiner that the SC DL was good, even though it was expired, as I was on Active Duty, and out of the state. He agreed with me, but insisted that I had to take the driving test. I asked him "If I get pulled over, I can't get a ticket for driving with an expired licsense, right" "That's correct" he stated. "Your licsense is good to drive on, but it's not good to get a Ohio DL. You must take the driving test. When would you like to schedule it? The next available is in 2 weeks"


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