2002: DMV-Q System to end the wait in DMV lines


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On February 05, 2002, Hugo Martin an LA TIMES Staff Writer penned the following reprinted story titled:

“Queuing Up for Different Kind of Wait at the DMV”.

In an effort to reduce long lines, the agency is rolling out a statewide computerized version of take-a-number system.

Sick of the long lines at the DMV?

The head of the state Department of Motor Vehicles says big change is on the way.

Steven Gourley promises that the expansion of a “queuing system” to branch offices statewide will end that notorious DMV staple: waiting in line.

The new plan for managing customers, Gourley said, is “the biggest thing since sliced bread.”

That Steve, what a sense of humor.

In fact, the “DMV-Q system” has not eliminated lines in every office where it is used. And many customers who have experienced the “Q” say it’s hardly an efficiency revolution.

The system is simply a computerized version of the take-a-number setup used at delis and bakeries. Disneyland uses a similar plan, called FastPass, to keep lines moving at the Happiest Place on Earth.

Here is how it works at the DMV: You walk in and get a number based on the transaction you need to complete. You then take a seat and wait for your number to be called.

Simple enough, right?

Since 1997, the “Q” has been installed in 29 of the state’s 170 DMV offices. Officials say it has worked so well that it will be added to every DMV office, beginning with 33 more over the next 12 months, including 13 in Southern California.

Priority service is supposed to go to those with quick, simple tasks, such as renewing car registrations. More complicated transactions, such as transferring title to a car, still may require long waits.

By prioritizing customers, DMV officials claim the system cuts the overall wait time by 30% to 50%. Surveys in a handful of offices showed a positive reaction from customers, DMV officials said.

In 1997 the DMV implemented their solution to long lines and endless wait times. Over 20 years later, DMV lines wrap around DMV office buildings and DMV wait times are often 4 hours.

Gourley wasn’t the only DMV official gushing about the new “Q.” DMV spokesman Evan Nossoff said many customers are reacting with, “Hooray!”

That’s not the word Max Vivar used to describe his experience with the new system. A retired machinist from Baldwin Park, Vivar said he recently spent 4 1/2 hours at the DMV’s West Covina office trying to fix the misspelling of his name on his driver’s license.
The “Q” system was installed in West Covina last year. Imagine what Vivar’s wait would have been without it.

“It’s not great,” he said. “It’s just a patch.”

As he complained on the front steps of the DMV office on a recent chilly morning, a line of about 15 people began to form behind him.

Just to enter the West Covina office, folks had to wait in line for a single DMV worker to ask them about their transaction and assign them a number. The line began to form near the front door and snaked onto the sidewalk.

“I don’t see why people have to stand in line when they collect so much money,” Vivar said, fuming as he walked to his car.
The West Covina line was not unique. About an hour later at the DMV office in Whittier, a dozen or so people waited in a line that stretched out the front door. The same was true at the Culver City office, although the line there was about half the length.

Gourley, the DMV chief, might want to tone down this no-more-lines stuff.

Ray Sanchez, a social services worker from La Mirada who spent nearly 1 1/2 hours at the Whittier office to renew his car registration, said he didn’t see an advantage to the new system.
“If you just have to get your tags, you should be expedited,” Sanchez said.
Guess what, Ray? That’s exactly what the new system is supposed to do.
DMV customers at several offices said they were pleased that the new system allows them to sit while waiting. But not everyone was so lucky. At the Whittier and West Covina offices, all of the seats were taken by midmorning, forcing a handful of folks at each location to stand.
There is a new scene at DMV offices with the “Q” system. Gone are the excruciatingly long, roped-off lines that zigzag through crowded offices.
Now necks are craned upward as everyone watches television monitors hanging from the ceiling, flashing the all-important numbers. A pleasant, recorded female voice announces the lucky digits every few seconds.
The system may sound stunningly simple. But it includes a few nuances that can be a killer if they are misunderstood.
After waiting at the Whittier office for more than an hour to get a copy of his driving record, Barry Kelperis, a truck driver from Walnut, could take it no more. He decided to get some lunch and come back later.

Gourley said, [it’s] “the biggest thing since sliced bread.”

“The DMV is the DMV,” he said, huffing. “It’s the same old wait.”
Kelperis said he was not worried about losing his place in the system because his number had the letter “H” before it. The voice on the intercom had just started announcing numbers preceded by the letter “B.” He figured there were six letters to go before he would be called.
Wrong. Numbers and letters are not called in sequence. Instead, the letters represent the type of transaction each customer must complete. For example, numbers that are preceded by an “A” are for car registration renewals. Numbers with a “C” are for new driver’s licenses.
Said DMV spokesman Steve Haskins: “We really don’t recommend that you leave the office.”
For all the hype about the “Q” system, Haskins said it has yet to make a systemwide impact at the DMV, where the average wait time remains 25 minutes. He expects that figure to drop once the system is further expanded.
Don’t hold your breath, said Perry Kenny, president of the California State Employees Assn., which includes about 8,000 DMV workers.
He said the cure for the long waits is not a more sophisticated queuing system but more DMV offices and more DMV workers.
California has the nation’s worst ratio of full-time employees in all state agencies–106 workers per 10,000 residents, Kenny said. New York, for example, has 137 full-time employees per 10,000 residents.
The DMV has not opened a new office since 1996, while the number of registered cars has increased from 26 million to 28.5 million in that time, Kenny said.
“Only live bodies can deal with that,” he said, “not computers.”
Asked to respond, the DMV’s Haskins said he would not comment on union matters.

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