Finally, Human Rights For Motorists

The employees "were friendly and seemed genuinely happy to be doing their jobs...the wait was minimal. Thank them for a most positive experience...."

--Letter to Connecticut's

Department of Motor Vehicles

Hardly the kind of feedback you would expect to hear about the old state DMV. Traditionally, long lines, surly staff, and an abyss of red tape have made visiting these agencies a nightmare for drivers. However, under financial pressure to cut costs and political pressure to reengineer government, DMVs are remaking themselves in the image of private enterprise, as service businesses whose aim is to keep costs low and the customer happy.

Connecticut's kinder, gentler DMV is a good example. Forced to close eight branches, the agency asked shopping malls to provide 15 rent-free offices. Mall developers figured the DMVs would increase traffic to their stores and agreed. The state is eking out savings in other ways as well: Connecticut American Automobile Assn. offices now provide photo licensing at no cost to the state, and companies such as General Electric Co. and Aetna Life & Casualty pay for DMV clerks to make regular visits to their offices to serve their employees. The agency bought and rebuilt three used buses to travel to the companies and other locations. The result: With 250 fewer employees, Connecticut has 22 more outlets than before--and is saving $7.5 million annually, says DMV Commissioner Michael W. Kozlowski.

Wherever possible, states are farming out DMV business to save money. Illinois and Oregon, among others, allow auto dealers to register new cars on site when they're sold. In Arizona, where DMV division director Russell Pearce says his wife was once afraid to tell people where he worked, the state made $40 million partly by creating lifetime licenses. These cost up to $25, vs. $7 for the four-year licenses, but needn't be renewed until age 60.

New technology also is helping pull the agencies out of the Dark Ages.

In Massachusetts, where the DMV was notorious for not answering the phone, reforms such as interactive-phone banks and credit-card fee payments have streamlined the process. Now, speeding tickets can be paid on the spot--by punching a credit-card number into a cellular phone.

Other innovations are on the way. Some states now use digital photo-imaging for license pictures, so photos can be stored on computers. That way, DMVs can renew or replace lost licenses by mail. Florida and other states are talking to Time Warner Inc. about creating an interactive cable channel that would provide information and testing for written driving tests and allow viewers to call up records, outstanding tickets, and renewal times. Using information provided by the channel, residents also could pay fees electronically or by touch-tone phone.

NOTHING PERSONAL. In fact, doing business with some DMVs soon may be as easy as using a bank card. Virginia, Washington, and California are planning to roll out ATM-style kiosks made by the likes of AT&T and IBM where drivers can transact DMV business. Eventually, licenses may have magnetic strips like credit cards that can be swiped through a machine to verify information. The goal of such changes, says Massachusetts Registrar of Motor Vehicles Jerold A. Gnazzo, is "to never see the customer again."

In the meantime, though, the DMVs claim that customer satisfaction is way up. Partly, officials say, that's because employees themselves are more pleasant, since their workloads are lighter. Plus, waits in line often are way down. Just ask Chicago lobbyist Mark Pufundt, who remembers taking a 25-minute

drive on his lunch break to spend two hours getting new plates. "Me and half the world who got there ahead of me would stand in line, and then wait in line No.2, and then line No.3," he recalls. No more. Pufundt recently purchased his new plates in less than five minutes using a touch-tone phone. Now, that's reengineering.


How states are "reengineering" departments of motor vehicles

KIOSKS California and Virginia will try ATM-style machines at which drivers can order plates and renew registrations. Oregon, Georgia, and Massachusetts have put offices in malls.

MOBILE UNITS Florida and Connecticut run mobile DMV offices to serve big companies.

DMV-TV Time Warner is talking with some states about creating an interactive cable channel on which drivers could call up their records, renew registrations, and take written driving tests.

PHOTOGRAPHIC IMAGING Many states are switching to digital license pictures, which can be stored in computers so renewals can be done by mail.