Can the DMV innovate? Why yes it can!

This post is a little off-topic, but I thought I would share…

Since nearly everyone has experienced the frustration of visiting the DMV, I’ll spare you the details of my latest visit.  It was no better and no worse than the DMVs I’ve visited in other states.  The only thing that helps keep me sane during these visits is identifying all the inefficiencies and imaging the numerous ways that service could be improved.  I liken it to what world peace would be like: a pleasant though, but something impossible to achieve.

Or is it possible?  Well, let me share with you what happened in my hometown almost 20 years.  In Canada, the province of Alberta (prior to 1993) had a system very similar to the DMV system that you see in many states.  Just like in the US, it was a painful process to get a driver’s license or register your vehicle.  In Calgary, a city of about 800,000 people at the time, there were a grand total of two registry centers (the equivalent of DMVs).  The hours were terrible, customer service was non-existant and the waits were long.  In 1993, the Alberta government decided to privatize the registry system, or at least the front-office part.

What happened?  Well, this map show one change that occurred.  Nearly everyone of those red dots is a registry services business.  I’m sure google picked up a few other businesses by accident, but right now there are 25+ registry services businesses in a city of just over one million.  Talk about options!

Before I left the city, I had a chance to experience the new system.  I needed a copy of my long form birth certificate.  So I looked up the closest registry services business (less than 2 miles away!).  But will they be open?  Why yes!  Their hours, Monday through Friday are 9am to 9pm (no need to leave work early!) and they are open on the weekend too.  I drove over, parked the car and walked in.  There were 2 people in line.  After a 3 min wait, I walked up to the counter and inquired about gettting a copy of my birth certificate.  No problem!  After filling out a form, the very pleasant lady entered my information into the computer, asked me a few questions to confirm my identity and said the birth certificate would be delivered by mail in less than a week.  Great!  I don’t remember what it cost me, but I do know they accepted credit cards.  I was in and out in less than 10 minutes.  I had a similar experience when I renewed my driver’s license a couple years later.

Today, the registry services businesses allow you to do the following quickly, painlessly and with great customer service: get a driver’s license (including the test), register a vehicle, register your business, get a marriage license, do a land title search, put a lien on property, change your name, get an Alberta healthcare card and even obtain a raffle license for your fundraiser.

So what’s the point of this post?  Well, it’s mostly a rant, but one take away is that innovation is possible, even in those areas of our lives where we’ve grown to accept inefficient, archaic systems.  Now to just get the California government to buy into the idea…

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