California’s Department of Motor Vehicles probably touches more state residents than any other state agency, and therefore has become the bureaucracy that everyone loves to hate.
At one time, that disdain might have been warranted. But under several past governors, and continuing under Gov. Jerry Brown, the DMV has become a model of consumer-friendly service and the intelligent use of technology that seems to escape other agencies.
If vehicle owners and drivers do their part — use the Internet for many direct DMV services and office appointments, and show up on time when face-to-face visits are needed, with the right documents — the agency does its part and everything is handled smoothly.
That’s a personal observation resulting from multiple vehicle ownerships (cars, boats and trailers) and therefore countless interactions with the DMV over several decades. But the Legislature’s budget analyst, Mac Taylor, reaches the same conclusion in a new report.
“Over the last 10 years,” the report says, “DMV has made efforts to improve customer service and increase efficiency, so that customers have additional options for renewing their vehicle registration.”
In addition to access via home computers, the agency maintains self-service kiosks in its field offices, and it has contracts with a number of private businesses for electronic transactions.
Taylor’s report reveals that while the number of vehicle registration transactions has remained more or less static in recent years, something less than 30 million per year, ever-fewer of them are done by mail or in-person visits and ever-more via the Internet and other alternative methods.
Brown’s 2012-13 budget builds on those steps by upgrading the DMV’s appointment system, expanding electronic driver’s license testing and, most intriguingly, reducing fees by $5 for those who renew their registrations without face-to-face DMV office visits, thus reducing those infamously long lines.
The proposed fee reduction is taking some heat from Taylor’s office and some legislators who worry about reducing revenue.
Taylor’s report estimates it would cost the state $100 million a year and “does not provide a good return.”
Rather than reducing fees for cooperative patrons, he says, the DMV should increase them by $7 for those who insist on doing their business in traditional face-to-face ways, and drop them by $2 for alternative users.
That’s not a bad idea; it’s just another way of doing the same thing without reducing overall revenue.
The main thing is that the DMV appears to be working on better, more efficient and more user-friendly ways of doing business. That’s a rare bit of good news, given the truly horrendous way in which so many agencies — the prison system comes to mind — squander money on things that achieve no purpose.
Dan Walters covers state politics for the Sacramento Bee.