Michael Ryan

Texas DPS driver’s license lines are a horror story. Here’s how the DMV can fix it.

DMV commissioner addresses long lines and high demand

North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles commissioner Torre Jessup blames the demand for the Real ID along with the always higher demand for services in the summer months for the long lines at DMV offices.
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North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles commissioner Torre Jessup blames the demand for the Real ID along with the always higher demand for services in the summer months for the long lines at DMV offices.

In the animated film “Zootopia,” a character needs some information at the Department of Motor Vehicles. In a wink to parents in the audience, the movie’s DMV is staffed entirely of sloths. One has a coffee mug that says, appropriately enough, “You want it when?”

It’s hilarious, if not entirely fair. Our friends at the Texas Department of Public Safety absorb a ton of information inside a day. If you think the state requires us to bring every document ever recorded about us to get a driver’s license — and it seemingly does — imagine processing all that over and over and over for all the people in line with you.

Still, let’s face it. The wait in line is so interminable that you and your fellow waiters should have reunions. If those centers welcoming travelers to Texas were anything like the driver’s license office, tourists would turn back.

I sure did, the first time I tried to get a license here.

I thought I was an early bird, arriving at a Fort Worth-area DPS before it opened on a Monday morning. The line was already 50 or more along the sidewalk. It was a beautiful morning. Do they do this when it’s raining?

The nice lady I lined up behind immediately told me she had been there for four hours the previous Friday and still hadn’t been served.

That’s pretty much when I decided to leave. I love it when I’m undaunted by something. I was daunted at the DMV. I don’t do daunted. I ended up driving to an outlying office — in Weatherford — where the service was lightning-quick by comparison.

Notwithstanding my empathy for DPS staff, this is a tear-your-hair-out disaster. It may be the worst part of life in Texas next to softball-sized hail. Is it understaffing and underfunding? Probably. Poor management? Maybe. A horrible business model? Without question.

For a better model, I look at Chick-fil-A. The wildly popular restaurant couldn’t keep up with demand in its drive-through lanes. It acted, decisively. Today, Chick-fil-A’s efficiency is so famous there’s a meme about it on social media. Above an aerial photo of a 19-lane bumper-to-bumper highway, the Twitter users asks: “How do Chick-fil-a drive thrus be like this and still get you ur food hot in 3 minutes?”

Chick-fil-A’s news site — deftly named “thechickenwire.chick-fil-a.com” — explains.

“The drive-thru experience is all a game of seconds,” company official Jared Solid says. “It’s about putting the right people in the right places to shave off unnecessary time.”

Think about that for just a moment. Here’s a corporation looking for ways to save customers seconds — when your state DPS, fueled by the awesome power of government, can’t manage to shave hours off your experience.

The company goes on:

Though the drive-thru may seem like one continuous experience to customers, Solid and his team think about it in multiple stages, looking for innovation every step of the way. One of the ways they do this is by building full-scale mockups at the Chick-fil-A Headquarters in Atlanta and driving real cars through them (indoors). Seriously. This way, they can ensure the design and process is just right, even before testing ideas in live restaurants.”

Now imagine that static line outside the DPS office: What efficiencies could DPS workers do roaming the line with an electronic tablet, a la Chick-fil-A?

Something else for DPS to think about: Chick-fil-A says many of its innovations in efficiency come from its franchisees in the field. In other words, ask your people on the front lines how to better serve the public.

Texas Legislators are considering bills that would move driver’s license functions from the DPS to the DMV, while also looking for ways to improve the service. Great — though the soonest the switch could be made is 2021. In the interim, I suggest the study include close-up observations of efficiencies found in the private sector.

Now, to be fair, kicking out chicken sandwiches, as involved as it is, is a much different ballgame than issuing driver’s licenses in a post-9/11 world. There’s a reason it’s called the Department of Public Safety.

Moreover, I got a booster shot of perspective this week. I met a Venezuelan woman who recently waited in line there two days for gasoline. She and her sisters said pensioners there are waiting in line for days for $3 monthly pensions. We’ve got it pretty good here.

But that’s no excuse for — well, sloth-like work flows. Fix it, like your company’s bottom line depended on it.

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