Monday, January 4, 2010

DMV Purgatory, a health care reform preview?

I decided to go register my new (used) Jeep today. I figured an hour or so, early in the afternoon, leaving plenty of time for other errands. So my son Max and I headed out. There was a line going out the door. I got number 708. They were on number 640 at the time, and there were two other, higher priority categories; military and renewals.

Before I start venting, let me be clear. This is not about the folks who work at the DMV. It's just an illustration of the nature of an operation in which customer service is of no consequence. There's no downside to frustrated customers. It's not like you can take your business elsewhere.

Anyway, after an hour and a half of waiting, I noticed the ATM machine. Why is there an ATM machine in here? These guys take in hundreds of dollars per minute. They must take plastic. I'd better ask. Nope. Only cash or checks, but don't worry, there's an ATM. It's not actually working, but if it were.... No problem. At the rate they were going I could drive to any ATM in the state and still be back before my number was called. So, off to the nearest gas station. The first one's ATM was also out of service. The second one worked. Back to the DMV. They had served exactly one more person in my category by the time I got back. Another hour and a half and my number finally got called. I felt like I'd won the lotto. That is, until the nice lady informed me that I needed to get a VIN verification first, since I bought a car with out of state plates. "Don't worry", she assured me, "we're open until 5pm". So, off to the nearest car dealership for a VIN verification. What does that entail? Well, the nice young lady copied some information from my title (the same title I had handed the lady at the DMV) onto a different piece of paper, asked me to read off my odometer numbers and charged my $20. She never so much as popped the hood. Back to the DMV. At least I didn't have to wait in line again. Just three hours and 45 minutes after my arrival, I left with my new plates. The title will arrive by mail in 6-8 weeks. Total cost, about $140 (the car is 16 years old).

How would a for-profit, competitive environment have been different? First of all, there were about 6 to 8 unmanned stations. A competitive enterprise would have done the math and figured that if each employee is taking in well over $1,000 per hour, and you have room for more employees, it's probably worth the expense. Also, how about on-site VIN verification. It's a five minute transaction at $20/pop. Mo money, mo money, mo money. These things even make sense from a political standpoint. How much productivity (and therefore tax revenue) is lost due to people spending half a workday at the DMV?

I suppose there's an upside, if we turn health care into a non-profit bureaucracy. We wont have to worry about people running to the hospital or the doctor's office every time they have the sniffles. If it's as torturous as the DMV, they'll have to drag people to their health care provider, kicking and screaming, or wait until they lose consciousness.

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