Mark Bult Design: San Francisco, CA, Established 1988

Web design and development for small and large business, e-commerce, b2b, b2c, SAAS, and community websites. User experience design and usability testing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Has the DMV gotten more efficient?

I had to go to the DMV this morning.

Yeah, I was absolutely thrilled about getting up at 7 am to bike halfway across San Francisco, anticipating several hours of standing in lines and being shuffled from one window to another by petty bureaucrats who would foist their clumsy communication skills and primitive people skills on me while they told me that what I wanted just wasn't possible, or that I had to go to Window 37 3/4 first, or that I didn't appear to be in their database so I mustn't exist even though I am standing right there.

But I had a different experience this morning.

Let's forget that on the way up the hill on my bike I got a flat tire. Let's forget that, once the doors opened, several people cut in front of me in line and I had to cut back in front of them with a loud "Excuse me!" Let's ignore the fact that halfway through my stay at the DMV the printer jammed while printing my registration and I thought I'd be there for 25 minutes just watching round women with puzzled looks shaking their heads and endlessly opening and closing the paper tray as if that would eventually fix everything.

None of those things could affect the fact that I was actually well served by the DMV this morning.

I know, I can hear the collective gasp of my readers as you wonder how this can be. Let alone how am I going to rant about something in my customary way if I have to admit that the DMV actually did well by me today? Well, I'll get to the ranting bit further down, have no fear.

First, let me tell you about the good experience.

I went early, before they opened, which is important if you don't want to spend three hours at the DMV. I stood in line outside, and aside from the aforementioned cutting incident all went well and I was one of the first 25 or so people served.

I had five different things I needed to do at the DMV, so I had every right to expect this to be a tedious endeavor. I had to:
  • Change my address in the DMV's records
  • Pick up registration tags
  • Get a change-of-address form for Velma
  • Add Velma to my car's title
  • Get a new California ID card
The woman who helped me was not overly friendly but not nearly as officious as people in this line of work usually are. Usually I get the Professional Petty Bureaucrat, Grade A. You can guess what the A stands for.

She knew just what to do, even though I needed several things. She was able to do three and a half out of five of them right there without redirecting me to another window yet. That was a good sign. The paper jam didn't take as long as it could have to resolve, and within a relatively short time I had my registration updated, my car title updated, a change-of-address form for Velma, a change-of-address card to stick on my drivers license, a receipt to pick up my tags at Window 17, and a receipt for my new ID and to take to Window B for a picture.

Now, admittedly this took less time because I was prepared. Due to Velma's foresight, I had info pre-filled-in on the the car title, and I had paid my registration online months ago; I just needed to physically pick up the tags since they could not longer mail them to me (since we moved, and the US Postal Service will not forward mail from the DMV to a new address, it just goes back to Sacramento. Tip: You should always make the DMV one of your first change-of-address notifications when you move).

So off I went to Window 17, which only had one person in line (amazing!), and then off I went to Window B to get my picture taken (also had only one person in front of me, I know it's hard to believe).

All in all, I was in at 9:01 am and out at 9:29 am, and that must be some sort of record.

Now, I haven't been to a DMV office in a few years but this all struck me as an inordinately efficient visit. I don't know if this is normal at the San Francisco DMV office or not. I also wonder if people have had this sort of experience elsewhere in California. Has the DMV gotten more efficient? (Leave a comment with your experience.)

Is it just the offices?
Perhaps I should rephrase the question: Have DMV offices become more efficient? Because their website sucks.

The California DMV's website has enabled some important functions over the past few years, but the online offerings are still severely limited. If this was a business, they'd have been overcome by the competition years ago.

1. Online renewal is limited
Some people (not everyone) can renew their license or vehicle registrations online. To do this, you have to have a "Renewal Identification Number (RIN)" on your renewal notice when it comes in the mail. Not everyone gets one. Why not? Why can't everyone use this? The DMV's FAQ does not explain.

2. The things you can do online are limited
The DMV's service offerings are pretty paltry online. If I was the Governator I would have made a campaign promise out of this; it would've gotten tons of votes and would've been a PR line with serious legs: "Everyone hates going to the DMV. In this Internet age where you can do almost anything online, why should we have to go stand in a line just to get a piece of paper? If you re-elect me, the DMV we'll make will be the envy of every other state."

3. The things you can do online are tedious and cumbersome
Almost all the pages are weighted down in cumbersome, unnecessary bureaucracy. They're poorly written and organized. The web's leading technologies (and I don't mean cutting edge) are nowhere to be seen, instead the site uses poorly thought-out forms and many actions require you to download PDFs when they could just as easily be done without it. Case in point: The "New Online Refund Program" is touted with the link "Simple Refunds." But the process begins with "You need Adobe Acrobat Reader 4.0 or above to view/print the instructions. Click the button below 'Get Acrobat Reader' to download this free software." What?! If I have to download something and open a separate PDF, then it's neither "simple" nor "online" at all!

4. The site is built for hopelessly outdated browsers
I quote from one of the FAQ pages: "For Internet Explorer or Netscape Communicator/Navigator, you must have version 4.0 or higher." They even have the old "Netscape now!" button on the page. It's like a trip back to 1997. And I just love that the DMV's logo right next to this has the slogan "Driving change..." plastered across it. *guffaw*

...the list goes on, but I should really be charging them for this usability analysis.

Outsource the DMV website
It doesn't happen often that I'm a proponent for privatization, but I wonder if California's DMV website would be a good case. At the very least, it's evident that the site needs to be outsourced to a competent company. The current offering is embarrassingly inadequate considering this state is home to Silicon Valley.

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Blogger velma said...

Not only did I have the foresight to fill out the title, but I ALSO spent 15 minutes over two phone calls talking to two agents figuring out what the heck you needed to do and in what order! Thank you very much. And that doesn't count all the calls to the DMV where they hung up on me, because they were too busy to answer...

5/25/2007 11:42:00 AM

Blogger jason said...

I recently discovered my license was expired. Drove down to the local DMV office, sat in a chair for 15 minutes drawing a frog before they called my number. I was in and out with my new license in less than 20 minutes. FWIW.

5/28/2007 04:40:00 PM

Anonymous scott said...

To have my license renew, I went to local DMV last week. Paid the fee, took new photo. Every bit of info on pre-filled renew applicaiton was correct. But clerk screwed up and changed some info which needed absolutely no change based on her
worthless wrong judgements.

I went back the next day to have it correct it, but same clerk yelled at me, practically insulted me in front of a lot of people.
Took me long time to have her change it back to what it was.
She sounded like if she was doing me a big favor.
I should have spoken to her supervisor about her unprofessional

6/09/2007 01:12:00 AM


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