DMV wait times routinely stretch for hours

I was startled to learn Tuesday that I would have to wait in line at least three and a half hours at the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Norwich in order to talk to someone about a registration.

But I was even more surprised to learn this is very routine.

Honestly, I am sure there are third-world countries that do better, much better.

Imagine that here, in the 21st century in Connecticut, you have to devote the better part of a day to register your car. Plan on taking a vacation day from work for that.

I can't think of many things in life that involve more waiting. I rarely spend more than 15 minutes waiting for a barber chair. I have survived a lot of closures of I-95 over the years, but I don't remember any of them costing me more than three hours in traffic.

Three and a half hours is a very long time.

The woman at the Norwich DMV who sits at the front door to tell how bad it's going to be — as if the packed parking lot and long line snaking into the waiting room wasn't warning enough — is brutally honest.

"There is no good time," she said, when I asked if there was a better day to come back.

Bill Seymour, the official spokesman for the department, more or less confirmed this.

It seems this is the busy season, from around the middle of April to mid- to late June, Seymour said.

It's a time when people are buying and trying to register new cars or to renew or register boats, he said. Some people also are using income tax refund checks to pay off outstanding tax bills that have prevented them from registering cars earlier.

Seymour likened this to a seasonal uptick experienced by other businesses.

But of course the difference is that other businesses would make changes to accommodate the spike. They wouldn't insist you have to wait three and a half hours to buy something in the busy season.

The last time I remember the DMV trying to explain away long lines was when a new computer system was being introduced. That seemed like a reasonable explanation.

The new computer system, Seymour said, is now working as intended and actually making it easier to do much more online without even having to visit a DMV office.

In other words, without the new computer system, the waits would be even longer, presumably hours longer. Yikes.

Seymour said the department has done a lot of consumer outreach to make it known that many services can be accessed online. Still, he said, many people still visit offices for tasks that could be done on their home computers.

These are honest citizens trying to obey the licensing and registration laws, but the state is making good citizenship onerous.

It's unacceptable mismanagement that elected leaders should address. It is also a telltale marker of deeper problems in state government.

I can't help but blame the creaky DMV bureaucracy on the near-unanimous confirmation last year of the new DMV commissioner, a Democratic insider, by the state Senate.

To replace the failing administration of the last DMV commissioner, a former state senator who had to resign amid a growing scandal, the governor and the Senate ratified the appointment of a new commissioner whose resume was heavy with political work.

Michael Bzdyra is a former legislative aide and policy advisor to the Senate Democratic Caucus. He also served as the second in command at DMV during the meltdown of the last administration.

That should have been a clue that new blood was needed — maybe a professional with experience running a big bureaucracy — instead of a crony.

But Hartford once again chose cronyism.

The lone vote against the commissioner's confirmation came from a senator not satisfied with the nominee's explanation that he never knew he didn't earn his master's degree when he mistakenly listed it on his resume for 20 years.

Remember that the Senate did not insist on professional management the next time you spend a few hours in a DMV waiting room.

And know that no help is on the way in this, the high season for registering boats and cars.

That's just the way it is, according to the DMV.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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