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A Good Experience At The DMV?

September 26, 2022

I bought a new car. . .sort of.

My son Jason bought a car with a loan from his friend Charles. But, Jason didn’t take care of the car and since Charles was holding the note, he took the car back. And paid to repair it. And then he sold it to my other son Arthur. But, the registration was still in Jason’s name. Arthur got tired of it,

It won’t go over 45 MPH!

So, he sold it to his sister Sarah. Sarah doesn’t have a driver’s license. She thought maybe owning a car would help motivate her to get her license. It didn’t. She now owned a car that she couldn’t drive and didn’t want.

I was driving a 1994 Toyota Corolla. It has 305,000 miles on it. I named it Marcus Aurelius and I wrote about it here.

So, we had to decide if we were going to buy my daughter’s car and sell Marcus Aurelius, or keep the ancient emperor and sell her car. Oh, her car was a 2001 BMW 325i. And while it has 297,000 miles A 21 year old BMW is a nicer car than a 28 year old Corolla. (And it certainly goes above 45 MPH.)

So, now I’m driving a new “old” car. When you buy a new car you need to register it, of course. Today was the day. I left work and drove straight from Salt Lake City to Provo. I arrived at 4:00. The office closes at 5:00. The DMV has really pushed people to try to set appointments. If you have an appointment you go to the front of the line and get an “A” number for “appointment.” If you don’t have an appointment you get a “W” number for “waiting.”

I got W498. The room was pretty full.

They were calling W487 when I arrived. I assumed I’d be here a long while. But, I also figured that if I got in the door before 5:00 I’d get my registration if I just was willing to wait long enough.

There’s a parable referred to as “The Elevator Problem.” Matt Davies defines it here:

You are the owner of a tall office building. The tenants in the building are complaining about the elevator (or ‘lift’ if you are British!) that takes them up and down floors in the building from the main entrance lobby. They are moaning that after pressing the button to call the lift they have to wait too long. They say the elevator is too slow and too old. Some of them are threatening to move out unless you solve their problem.

The point of the Elevator Problem is that it’s not really an elevator problem. It’s a people problem. Have you ever been to a gas station where they show TV on a screen while you pump gas? Ever notice that you are done pumping gas before the “newcast” is complete?

That’s because the screen is not there to give you news. It’s there to distract you.

The DMV had screens up showing which number was being served. Next to the number was an expected wait time. When I sat down the highest number was W494 and it showed a wait time of 50-55 minutes. My number wasn’t even on the board. Yep, I was going to be there for a while.

And then an interesting thing happened. The DMV was ahead of schedule. After about 20 minutes my number was on the board. And it now had the 50-55 estimated wait time. Okay, so about 5:20 I should be done.

And it continued. They were really running ahead of schedule. I watched as my number quickly moved up the board. And the estimated wait time kept decreasing. And then I realized something. The DMV, either by design or simply coincidence, had solved The Elevator Problem.

The solution to the Elevator Problem was not to build a faster elevator. It was, as the gas stations found, all about distracting you. Most solutions involve putting in mirrors, or something similar. My personal favorite solution is when they put newspaper pages on display in the elevator. People would get distracted by the news stories and stop thinking about how long the elevator was taking.

The DMV set the expectation that it would be over an hour wait for me. And then, they served me long before they said they would. They had distracted me. And it worked. I left the DMV happy about how quickly I had been served.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. Order Miscellany II, an anthology including his latest short story, “The Mercy System” here

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