DMV could learn from Target and Borders

Last week I spent two hours at the Woodbridge office of the DMV. Needless to say, I am compelled to address this ongoing problem in my column.

While waiting for my turn to simply get a title registration changed (which only took five minutes once my number was called), I had a lot of time to think about the similarities and differences between the DMV and private sector businesses.

I should start out by saying that I have no complaints about the service representatives with whom I interacted with during my visit. The employees are doing the best they can, given the resources they have.

The two individuals I worked with were very knowledgeable and courteous. Truth be told, I don’t know if I could maintain a similar sunny disposition if I had to deal with extremely upset and stressed people all day.

What I find outrageous, as do most people with whom I have discussed this, is that the DMV is horrendously understaffed even though it is one of the few state agencies with which most citizens are required to interact.

I know many people will think that I am beating a dead horse as the misery related to interacting with the DMV is well known and frequently written about, but I think that our legislators need to repeatedly hear from the public (and opinion columnists) until they fix the problem.

For instance, Target has a system that allows for the cashier to serve the next person in line in the event a price check needs to be done for a customer who is in the middle of a transaction. Borders Books uses a single line to check out, which is far more equitable for consumers. How many times have you gotten in a line that didn’t move while seven people in the line next to yours were checked out?

While this specific solution wouldn’t work for the DMV, their current system is dreadful. People who have simple transactions shouldn’t have to wait two hours.

These solutions to retailing problems are driven by free market competition. There is no incentive for the DMV to become efficient and develop such creative solutions to problems because they have a captive market.

Then I thought ? “why is it necessary for the state to perform these duties?” What is done by state employees that couldn’t be done by the private sector?

The people hired by the DMV are the same people that are hired by private companies. It’s not like they have superhuman abilities or are screened more thoroughly than CIA employees. Even our most sensitive government projects, such as the building of nuclear war ships, are bid out to contractors.

If the DMV were privatized, it would behoove the contracting companies to make changes and advances necessary to move more people through their lines, which would generate more sales. And if offices in nearby geographical locations were contracted out to different companies then a customer would be likely to drive to another location if say ? the Woodbridge office was not operating as efficiently or did not have friendly and knowledgeable staff as Springfield.

I believe that privatized DMVs would have the incentive to fill as many lanes with tellers as necessary to service customers in a timely manner since unhappy customers could just as easily go to one of the neighboring jurisdictions to get processed faster if they didn’t.

Confidential information would be as well protected by privately contracted DMVs as it is by a state run DMV. In fact, it would be in the best interest of a private company to take additional precautions to safeguard your information (such as requiring employee background checks) as they could be held legally responsible if found guilty of allowing personal data to be improperly released or misused. Try to get the government to be held accountable for its indiscretions and blunders.

Unfortunately much of the public has become convinced that government is the only answer to many of our problems and issues. Too many times we allow those with a vested interest in growing the government to influence our thinking about the way things would operate if we lived in a society truly founded on the free market system of supply and demand. I hope this column gets Potomac News readers thinking about viable alternatives.

While the DMV may be viewed by many as a necessary service provided by “The State,” it does not necessarily have to be. We need to contact our representatives and tell them that other options, such as privatization, need to be considered for the DMV.

James Simpson lives in Lake Ridge. He is a member of the Libertarian Party of Prince William County, which believes that many state services would run more efficiently if privatized.