An Experience with Public Sector Customer Service

Now that I live in Tucson , I am required by law to have my vehicles emissions-checked once a year. It's now part of the yearly renewal process I have to go through in order to ensure that Caesar's minions (cops) leave me alone unless by circumstances I get tagged as one of those 'speeders' to be ticketed by the end of the shift. Naturally, there's a fee for the emissions check separate from the registration fee; as can be expected, it too is a state-run operation. As in all states, the money wasted on such unnecessary requirements pales in comparison to the personal time wasted and the vast amount of treasure stolen to conduct such business.

Most anarcho-capitalists like myself have a practical side. Even though they hate the state with every fiber of their being, anarcho-capitalists will, out of necessity, be forced to pick and choose their fights with Caesar. No sense in going to jail for refusing to pay a comparatively annoying amount of tribute once a year. After all, most everyone needs to drive in order to earn a living and make life enjoyable. Until more Americans wake up to the abusive nature of Caesar's existence, anarcho-capitalists will just have to, as Orwell hypothesized, keep clawing at the state in other ways. Otherwise, the overwhelming amount of people who comprise the sheep and outright stupid will clap and bark heartily as anarcho-capitalists are hauled off to prison . . . or worse.

I first had to call one of Caesar's many phone lines to locate where the nearest emissions station and DMV office were located. The Tucson-metro Yellow Pages has about 20 pages of Arizona state government offices listed. The print is small and the organization is haphazard. Many agencies seem to be listed more than once, but under different names. Every department seems to have its own legal department, its own transportation wing. Well, that's government for you.

I spent about 20 minutes talking to a 'level 1" customer service representative ('customer service'?). I got the information I requested . . . eventually, but the substance of the entire conversation was once described by H. L. Mencken, who said, 'It is the inevitable habit of bureaucracies, at all times and everywhere, to assume . . . that every citizen is a criminal. Their one apparent purpose, pursued with a relentless and furious diligence, is to convert the assumption into a fact.' I wouldn't say that the gentleman I spoke with was acting with 'furious diligence,' but he was certainly persistent in trying to get me to admit what he had already assumed based on my questions: I was a criminal.

At the emissions station, I witnessed what we've all come to expect from state-run agencies: robotic and slouching drones, indifference to those being 'served,' and the internal sense that the most important thing about work is how long until break time. I found the woman who performed the turn-your-head-and-cough test on my car especially quirky. She sounded a lot like Penny Marshall as Myrna Turner on the old Odd Couple TV series.

After about 20 minutes, a blink of the eye for any activity being performed by a state agency, I proceeded across the street to the DMV office to renew my tags and registration.

My first glimpse of the interior of the building was obscured by a line that extended right to the entrance. I soon realized that the line led to a desk in the middle of the building where a very attractive young woman was greeting people with a friendly smile and doling out those infamous numbered tickets based on the 'transaction' information of DMV 'customers.' I doubt that any DMV employee there could have offered an explanation that connects the numbering system to improved 'customer service.' Just sitting in that office, listening and observing, would convince even the dumbest among us that the system does not facilitate efficiency.

The design of this particular building took the state specialty of making people wait to an art. On either side of the front desk, there were two roughly equal-sized waiting rooms. For the two hours I was there, the number of people waiting could not have dipped much below one hundred at any time. In fact, I'd say there was a net gain of people waiting over those departing and getting on with what the state might consider trivial activities: shopping, working, being productive, lounging, and living.

When I finally got served, it took all of ten minutes for me to conduct my business. I reflected on why some other people took so long to do what they needed to do. It would seem that there were enough 'windows' to service customers in a timely fashion; there must have been 20 of them, ten on either side of the building.

I overheard some conversations around me during my experience with the public sector's idea of customer service. One guy pointed out that they, the DMV employees, started taking their lunch breaks at 11:00 a.m. and staggered them all the way to 2:00 p.m. Sure enough, at about 11:45 I looked over at windows 11-20 and only two were staffed and processing transactions. DMV employees are people and people got to eat. It didn't matter to them that other people were coming in most at that time, on their lunch breaks, with the distant hope of being processed in time to eat and get back to the business of making money, putting food on the table, and providing consumers with useful goods and services.

One of the windows near me was serving a woman who, by the way she was dressed, was obviously Muslim. She was at the window for at least 30 minutes, and that was beyond the time she spent waiting like the rest of us. I guess you can't be too careful when issuing a driver's license to one of them. As we have been constantly reminded by the president, we need to use every means at our disposal in this post-9/11 world to protect the American people. It's for the greater good.

One guy even suggested that they, the DMV, just like to 'f***' with people and arbitrarily make some wait longer than others. What a nut! How could anyone seriously believe that public servants would do that to perfect strangers? There was a woman, who, when her number was finally called, said, 'It's my turn! I get to go!' I guess if you're one of those hard-working state employees, such offensive and boorish comments justify making the next ten people wait even longer.

Actually, the 'nutty' guy wasn't so far from the truth. After all, the DMV has a monopoly on the 'service' it provides to the public. They have the luxury of knowing that petty tyrants in the state legislature have made the citizens of Arizona into captive clientele. There's no incentive to be fast and accommodating when there's no other competitors in your 'market.' The people at that and every other DMV office may lack smarts and innovation, but they at least know that everyone has to come to them to pay for the 'privilege' of being able to use Caesar's roads and having unmolested access to their means of subsistence.

For the last nine years, I though that I had been spoiled by the 'reduced' impact of the DMV on my life. I never needed to emissions-check my vehicles, and the nearest DMV office was almost 20 miles across comparatively barren northern Arizona . The office itself was two single-wide trailers joined together. I never had to wait more 30 minutes to get in and out.

Now that I look back, even that relatively small period of intrusion carried a proportionately equal intrusion on the lives of everyone living in that rural area I used to call home. Those people outside the city, where life moves at a much slower pace, should have every right to dispose of the entirety of their time as they see fit. Life may happen slower but the DMV still claims the same level of precious time.

It's like Thomas Sowell once said, perhaps even describing bureaucracies and other state-run operations, 'People who have time on their hands will inevitably waste the time of people who have work to do.' Think of one of those catchy advertising slogans promoting services provided by the state, except for this one, inject brutal honest because lying is completely unnecessary: 'The DMV: Wasting your time and taking your money--because there's no one else you can turn to.'

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Harry Goslin's picture
Columns on STR: 37

Harry Goslin lives in eastern Arizona.