Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rationing Government Services

File this under theater of the absurd.

We have 3 cars. Their registrations all expire at the same time, due to the hiatus following the federal flood. I also lost my titles when my house flooded and I have never gotten them replaced. This year I decided to get them replaced. I discovered that two of them still listed liens from loans long ago paid off. That never bothered me before but if I decided to sell or trade one of them it could be a problem.
Last month I went to the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles office on Airline Highway, that didn't turn out so well.

After reading the form they gave me. Vigilant to make sure I didn't get sent home again I carefully filled out the entire form, got lien releases from the lenders, copied Her drivers license and a current insurance card for each car. Finally I had the whole thing notarized. I made a separate packet for each car.

Tuesday morning I set off for the office again.

Arriving in the reception line you are triaged and given a number. Apparently there are actually ten different queues and not all clerks can handle all kinds of transactions. After watching the system for a while you can sort of figure it out. That took about half an hour standing up.

I was in line 3 and there were five or six people ahead of me. Only two clerks seemed to be handing "3"s but they also it seemed handling "4"s and possibly some of the other queues. The queues progressed rapidly, almost as fast as the electronic audio system could issue the requests. I was fairly impressed with the apparent efficiency of the system. I waited around about 45 minutes or so until my number was called.

I went to the "counter" (actually a cubicle with a fairly comfortable chair) and told the clerk that I needed to renew 3 registrations, order copies of the titles and get liens removed from two of the titles. I was informed of one the "secret" rules, each customer was only allowed 3 "transactions", surely the "receptionist" had informed me of that. I had apparently transgressed by not stating in detail every transaction I need to accomplish causing severe dysfunction in the functioning of the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles, depriving other citizens of their three transactions. The exasperated clerk proceeded to do me a personal favor by processing the transactions in about 5 minutes. How I was supposed to know about this or what constituted a "transaction" is beyond me.

She asked how I wanted pay. I told her I would prefer a check or credit card or I could pay cash, but I might not have enough cash on me for that. I didn't know how much it would cost. She informed me they would take a check, and revealed the second of the "secret" rules, The "Owners" name must be on the check. She was listed as Owner on two of the cars and one had both of our names. Again I had no way of knowing about this rule. She kindly added up the amount of the transaction and had me fill out the check in front of her so she could "approve" it.

Next stop the "Cashier". There was a line of about six or eight people waiting to pay. As the clerk called our names we went to the counter to receive our papers. Most people seemed to be getting Drivers Licenses, some getting License Plates and a few registrations. Soon my name was called, there was a stack of forms some with renewal stickers on them. Something was wrong, there were only two decals.

Back to the exasperated clerk. She said she told me that she was only supposed to do three transactions and that she had told me I had to go back and stand in line again to do more. Well she never said the second part and lead me to beleive she had in fact processed all of the renewals.

Back to the Cashier, she starts to hand me the stuff and notices that my check is filled out wrong. The number and written amount don't agree. I had made an error. Back to the Exasperated Clerk, who said that I should make out another check and she would come sign it in a minute.

Two renewed registration in hand I go back to the back of the line. The reception line is much shorter now, but its also moving much slower. One of the two receptionists who had been there earlier had disappeared. It took almost the same amount of time the second time around as the first.

When I reached the front of the line in an effort to conform to the system I made sure to say "I need to renew a Registration and order a Duplicate Title". It was obvious that I had tagged as a trouble maker. The Receptionist arched her eyebrow and pointedly asked "Is That All?"

Waiting for my number to come up I noticed that throughput was severely lower than earlier in the morning. The nonstop paging had slowed noticeably, often there were gaps of several minutes between pages. Although the waiting area was less crowded than before my wait the second time was almost the same length as the first one. The same two clerks were were handling the "3" queue. My wait was about the same.

Fortunately for me on the second pass I got the "other" "3" clerk. She asked "Haven't you been here since early this morning?" "Yes" I responded and gave her the short version of being sent to the back of the line. In a few minutes I had written my check (correctly this time) and was instructed to meet her at the Cashier.There was no line at the Cashier window and my papers were ready. I wuz done. It only took3 1/2 hours. Now all I have to do is get Brake Tags.

I suspect all of this has more to do with maintaining a statistical average of customers served and queue length than with actual number of transaction processed.


Clifton said...

I have been in a situation similar to this in the same building on Airline. I especially like when there are 20 people in there waiting for the same kind of transaction but only two clerks are handling that but the third clerk is sitting there because no one in line needs to do what she is working on.

Tim said...

Pure loss of vision, that's what this is. Some government offices organize their work around the needs of their workers and seek ways to make their own work more convenient. They totally forget that they are supposed to be serving customers and making things convenient for them. Three and a half hours! What a shame.