Volume XI, Issue 35 ~ August 28 - September 3, 2003

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Burton on the Bay

Horror Stories from the MVA Lines

That is the best government which desires to make the people happy, and knows how to make them happy.
— Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay, 1800-1859

Methinks anyone who owns an automobile, possesses a driver’s license or wants to, should consider writing down those words on postcards and sending one each to Gov. Bob Ehrlich, State Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan and MVA Administrator Anne S. Ferro.

Why not write or print out a few more copies on index cards to take with you when you have to visit your friendly MVA office? I’m quite sure the time will come for you to find it appropriate to pass the card to one of the clerks staffing the stations.

The attendant can’t do much more than send you back to the end of the line, and what difference does a few more hours make when you’ve already spent two or three to get before a real live person? Of course I’m being facetious, but if you take the incredibly long lines seriously, it would make you bawl. They’re a disgrace.

A trip to get a driver’s license, register your vehicle, change the title of an automobile or do other business to keep drivers and their vehicles on the roads of Maryland is akin to having a root canal. On second thought, I’d say it’s worse. I’ll take the trip to the dentist. At least while waiting in line there’s no drilling to endure and no impatient and snippy attendant to contend with.

Black Friday
I thought I had found the solution to all of this a couple of years ago when I switched my MVA business to the Annapolis office, where personnel are more courteous, helpful and organized. Another bonus: lines generally are much shorter than at MVA headquarters in Glen Burnie.

So I was wondering what all the fuss was about when I read in the daily press about the long waits. Why, I thought, don’t motorists go to Annapolis or some of the other MVA outposts scattered around the state? Even the Social Security lines in the Glen Burnie SSA office are shorter than those at MVA Glen Burnie.

Last Friday, August 22, 2003, (I list the year because that’s how long lines are, and yes, I’m being facetious again because if I wasn’t I’d be bawling) I took my own advice and journeyed to the Annapolis MVA office to get some information about the vision standards I’ll need to meet to maintain my driver’s license.

When one was born when Calvin Coolidge was president, there are periodic eye exams between license renewals, which I can fully understand. But I have fears of dying of old age in a line in an MVA facility. So you might ask, Why not phone? Have you tried that? I’ll not go into my experiences of being on hold. If you really want to know, I suggest you dial Glen Burnie headquarters and see for yourself.

Arriving at the Annapolis facility on Harry S Truman Parkway mid-morning, what do I see but a parking lot with more vehicles than I’ve ever seen there before? Inside the building was a sign warning me of long lines. At the reception booth I got a number. I was more than 60 slots from talking to a human being associated with MVA.

There was plenty of talk, but it was among other MVA patrons — and it was more grumbling than talk. Boots Johnson of Annapolis complained he had already been waiting more than two hours. He had to go to the bathroom bad, but he was concerned that if he did and his number was called, he’d have to start all over again.

I’m curious how Boots made out. Did he persevere? Did he chance it and go to the men’s room far down a hallway and make it back in time to hold his place? Or like me, did he decide to try another day? He absolutely had to be at work at noon, for he had taken only the morning off figuring, like I did, there’d be no problem.

As I was departing, I talked to a woman who said she had spent three hours and 15 minutes to get the name on her driver’s license changed to her married name.

No Way Out
MVA and the rest of the bureaucracy all the way up to the governor can talk about surges in transactions, increased security, budgetary concerns and a new driver’s license system all they want, but this is a shameful way to run a government agency. They knew all of this was coming, so why weren’t preparations made to cope? Why weren’t the 140 job vacancies at MVA filled?

As Lord Macaulay said, government should both desire to make the people happy and know how to make them happy — or at least less unhappy. But MVA has us by the you know what. It’s not like any other business; we can’t go elsewhere.

Can You Top These?
Who of MVA’s constituents doesn’t have a horror story or two to tell?

Here’s another. I waited through a long line to correct their mistake about a Renault driven to college by daughter Heather and son Joel. I finally got it corrected, and they asked for the registration fee, which had been paid via mail upon renewal. I told the attendant, but she couldn’t confirm my word, for the computer was down.

Here were my choices. I could pay again and receive a refund in the mail — if the computer started working again and showed the original fee had been paid. Or I could come back another day and get in line again. I wrote the check — and never heard from MVA again. Eventually, I had both canceled checks, but returning to prove my point wasn’t worth the hassle.

And another. Wife Lois turned her driver’s license in one day for a change to be made, and a clerk misplaced it. It was getting near closing time, and Lois was told she’d have to come back the next day.

“How?” she asked. “I’ve got two kids, a car but no license to drive it.” She called me at my Sunpapers office, and I called Elner Johnson, then the DMV head, who got it straightened out. But it was a close call.

Here’s a third. A couple years ago at MVA headquarters, my eyesight qualification was approved by the person in charge of that department. I was told to go to the license line with the photocopy of the approval. But the clerk there said he wouldn’t accept a duplicate, even from the boss who was maybe 75 yards away. I had to take the eye test again.

All this is not just in Maryland. Son Joel waited more than two hours in line in D.C. When he finally got to a window, was told he had to fill in another part of his application for a driver’s license. He didn’t have a pen, and the clerk wouldn’t provide one. So he was sent back to the end of the line. Rather than go through it all again, he gave up driving. Owning a car in Washington is too much of a hassle, anyhow.

Joel’s fortunate. He can get by without a license or vehicle registration. Most of us can’t. We have to go to MVA at some time or other to pay hefty costs to wait in line, and not infrequently endure personnel who, shall we say, aren’t too helpful or accommodating.

Is that the way government is supposed to be? Bob Ehrlich, are you listening?



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Last updated August 28, 2003 @ 3:01am