Adventures in Small Government
The DMV has always been a bit of a hell hole. The rapidly deteriorating 1950s facade opens to grey walls lined with posters from a 1990s New Jersey tourism campaign. I won the New Jersey and You, Perfect Together essay contest in fourth grade, but it lives on in the NJ DMV. Pink plastic chairs dulled by years of impatient behinds are crammed together entirely too closely for an OCD sufferer to feel at home. And then there are the crowds...
On the last day of the month, and perhaps on other days as well, the DMVs overflow with crowds of confused people being bullied by state employees. The crowd itself is a fascinating cross section of North Jersey. Everyone in the license renewal line is essentially randomly selected from the population of Jerseyans who drive. If that analysis is true, we are an even more diverse section of the planet than even I had proudly assumed. The flu virus was flying at me in several dialects as a wide variety of humanity coughed and sneezed in the entirely too closely packed pink chairs.
In order to renew a driver's license in New Jersey, you must report, in person, to your local DMV with your "Six Points" of identification. Once upon a time, the walls were still grey, the chairs were still pink, and the facade was still 1950s, but there were a few more staffers available and residents had the option of renewing by mail. No longer. Now the typical excited 18 year olds fresh from their road tests are joined by octogenarians who can barely stand in line. Perhaps forcing people to alternately stand in line for half an hour, sit in pink chairs for half an hour, and then stand in line again is our secret way of making sure that only the fittest residents receive their renewals.
Aside from calisthenics, the other barrier to license renewal is being able to assemble the Six Points. The DMV website will walk you through the formula, but it appeared that very few NJ residents with November birthdays use the internet because it was rare that someone approached the first desk without frantically combing through a purse or wallet for one last "Point".
"Does my CVS Extra Care Card count as a point?" "No."
"But I have a receipt too!" "No."
The other possibility is that these were all secretly Tea Party activists determined to demonstrate the inefficiency of the socialist DMV, but the crowd was way too diverse so probably not. As I watched one parent berate the desk employee about how her son's Little League card should count, I began to feel a deep sense of sympathy for DMV staffers.
After receiving my piece of torn cardboard with "Wayne DMV" and the number "88" scrawled in Sharpie on one side and planting myself in a pink chair, I took a moment to consider the thought exercise of "could this be done better?" What would a private market for driver's licenses look like? In a free market, I personally would choose the licensing company that made me sit in the fewest pink chairs next to the fewest likely TB patients.
Person next to me: "Cough hack cough phlegm cough."
But that would probably mean not making people show up to renew at all. Would the private market be able to both make me a happy customer and serve public safety?
KPd.: "Oh, hey Eric!"
Eric: "We failed inspection."
KPd.: "Crap. What was it? Brakes?"
Eric: "Oh no. They don't check any of the safety stuff anymore. Thanks Governor Christie. No the only thing they test now is emissions. And we failed."
KPd.: "Irony sucks."
So, in NJ, you still have to show up for inspections, but nothing is actually checked, except air quality. The ghost of liberal governments past.
But if your car is a death trap with a visibly broken windshield and no mirrors? No problem! Another happy customer - er, citizen. I wouldn't mind waiting in the inspection line a tad longer in order to ensure that the car next to me on the Parkway can't explode, but then I'm a fan of Ralph Nader.
After an hour and a half of standing and sitting, I got my new license. I think I developed an appreciation for the patience of the DMV employees, too. But if small government and privatization are not the best guarantors of public safety, could we maybe consider a public/private collaboration in just the waiting area? Maybe someone could sponsor some larger, more well-spaced chairs.