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David Hanlin: Could privatization help visitors to MVA?

July 10, 2013|By DAVID HANLIN

Like most, I periodically have to deal with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. The folks who work in the Hagerstown office off Sharpsburg Pike have a tough job. To help them, computer systems have been upgraded. Self-serve kiosks have been installed. Staff might even have attended customer services classes.

As many parents do, I co-signed a car loan when my son bought a car. Since he paid off the loan, I wanted to transfer my interest to him. This became even more urgent when he delayed resolving a repair order issued by a state trooper and allowed his car insurance to lapse. The result was his registration was suspended. 

Not only did I have to drive him to the MVA, but it would likely prove helpful in case the MVA would need an additional signature to clean up this mess. As I feared, when we arrived at the MVA we learned that a signature on the back of the title was not sufficient. We had to fill out a gift form. We also learned that insurance cards were not sufficient proof of insurance. He needed to get a special form proving that the policy was in effect and that it could be faxed. He called the insurance company, which agreed to fax it to the MVA. After sitting around for two hours, it arrived and we learned that it was the wrong one. The clerk clarified which form was needed and indicated that it needed to be an original. This meant the insurance company would have to mail it to him. 

As promised, this special form arrived a week later. Our second visit to the MVA started off better. Things seemed to be in order this time. We had the title, gift form, registration, special insurance form, car inspection and signed repair order. The clerk at the information desk indicated that everything seemed to be in order. We were given a number and told to wait our turn.

Finally, his number was called. This clerk could only resolve one of his problems. She did so and gave him another number.  Back to the end of the queue we went, waiting to be called by the next clerk. Finally, he was called, but that clerk also was able to resolve only one problem. She issued him another number and off we went to our seats, waiting to be called. 

While waiting, I noticed that the self-serve line nearly stretched out the door. Curious, I started to talk to other patrons. People in the self-serve line were there for a number of reasons.  Some couldn’t get on the MVA website to process simple transactions. Some preferred to pay their fees with cash or checks rather than with credit cards. Some wanted to use the self-serve kiosks at MVA just in case some “mystery” form was needed. People waiting were generally resigned to their fate, but frustrated. 

No business would survive operating like this. Staff was pleasant but the customer experience was not. Poor customer experience coupled with inefficient operations usually are signs of a business in trouble. I concluded if the MVA were a business it would either have to change dramatically or it would go out of business. I began to wonder if a business couldn’t do the job more efficiently and with higher customer satisfaction. 

From my experience, I concluded that large parts of the MVA could be subcontracted. Privatizing parts of the MVA might be a way to reduce the size of government by reducing inefficiency. And as is often the case, privatizing parts of the MVA is likely to save the taxpayers money. When customer experience is put first, operations tend to be more efficient.  The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that there are many similar opportunities in state government.

As for my son, his saga wasn’t over. He was told that there was yet another form missing. The clerk had never heard of the form the computer indicated was missing, but she was able to determine that he could either wait two weeks until the proper staff person was scheduled to be in Hagers-town, drive to Frederick the following week or drive to Glen Burnie. We decided to go to Frederick, where we learned the form wasn't needed after all. While there, we went ahead and transferred the title and renewed the registration.

Maryland can do better than this. I dare say privatizing certain government functions offers a great way to streamline operations, save taxpayer money and improve customer satisfaction. With the endless demand for taxes and increasing fees at the very least, we should do better.

David Hanlin is a Hagerstown resident. His email address is davidhanlin54@gmail.com.

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