DMV: Living Down To Expectations

The drab motif from the hallway continued, but now there were posters and signs on the walls. Each was a different size and different typeface. It seemed as if each was added when needed with no regard to what preceded it or where it would be displayed.

Thoughtless! That’s probably the best way to describe the room’s decor. It is not the kind of neglect that leaves a room dirty, but the kind that leaves it cold and unwelcome. Uncaring fits here as well.

Nine years ago, I took a photo trip on the Staten Island Ferry. After the trip I wrote about the waiting room:

If there is a more depressing public space in America, I have not seen it. This building is screaming, “We really don’t give a s*** about you.” The waiting room was drab. Even if it were clean it would seem dirty… but it was dirty.

The waiting room has since been replaced.

Yesterday I found my new ‘most depressing place.’ It’s the DMV building in Wethersfield. I was there attempting to get a temporary handicapped parking pass.

Before I go on, I know there is at least one DMV employee who reads my blog. This is not about DMV workers. I only dealt with one DMV employee. She was nice as can be.

This is about a facility so demoralizing it legitimizes every joke or snipe ever made about a DMV facility anywhere!

You feel it walking in. The walls are cinder block and drab. The floor is linoleum tile. The lighting is fluorescent. It’s like stepping back to 1957.

I took the elevator to the second floor, walked down a hallway and into the large room where DMV and public meet.

A casually dressed woman asked why I was there? There were six in front of me I was told. My singular human contact handed me a ticket she pulled from a printer on her waist and told me to wait. It wouldn’t be long.

As time went by I realized the letter on my ticket, “E,” related to the service I needed.

I sat down on a molded plastic chair and looked around. The drab motif from the hallway continued, but now there were posters and signs on the walls. Each was a different size and different typeface. It seemed as if each was added when needed with no regard to what preceded it or where it would be displayed.

Thoughtless! That’s the best way to describe the room’s decor. It is not the kind of neglect that leaves a room dirty, but the kind that leaves it cold and unwelcome.

Uncaring fits here too.

Overhead monitors were displaying tickets currently being served. New tickets were announced by an automated monotonous human voice then displayed on the screens.

It was mind numbing.

I tried to kill time. No AT&T service on my phone. It probably cuts down on calls to the suicide prevention hotline.

35 minutes in I realized no “E” tickets had been called!

I went to the woman with the printer. She disappeared to check.

The person who knew was running the camera, she said. A few minutes to find out.

There were still six people in front of me! Even if solved immediately there was no way to get my pass and get to work on time.

I left.

Governments do some things well–not everything. We put robotic laboratories on Mars and produce scenes like this DMV office!

When employees are placed in a loud, poorly thought out, disorganized space they can’t do their best job. Aesthetics make a difference to employees and customers. Making a place warm and functional has a cost, but a cost with a payoff.

I wish I knew many times the commissioner’s office has been redecorated since these public areas last had a makeover?

26 thoughts on “DMV: Living Down To Expectations”

  1. Have you been on the Staten Island ferry recently? At least the city side is quite lovely. I was just on a few weeks ago. The ferries themselves are rundown, but the terminal is very nice.

  2. I grew up on Long Island which meant going to Motor Vehicles in Westbury. We never had just 6 people in front of us. I can remember the line going the length of the (very long) building and looping back and forth several times. You dídn’t take a long lunch, you took the day off. Now, I consider going to DMV as one of the benefits of having moved to Connecticut.

    I had to pick up a permanent handicapped pass for my dad at the Danbury office a few months back. I was in and out in 5 minutes.

  3. The Hamden office is just as drab and depressing, and in a badly run-down neighborhood, though it is a little less crowded. Enfield is much more modern and (more) pleasant.

  4. Thank you Geoff. This blog post was certainly worth the wait. I’m afraid you might be right about the Commissioners office. Those at the top, unfortunately have little regard for those at the bottom. Not always. But often enough to make us ask ourselves “what’s wrong with this picture?” We all have reason to utilize this service regardless of economic class. It would behoove those able to make the difference, to do so. And sadly, given all the technology we have available to us these days, is it really the best they can do to provide quick and efficient service to the taxpayers who are financing the DMV? No, it’s not their best. Someone just doesn’t care enough to make it better.

    1. No, Woody. However, after 45 minutes I was exactly as far from being served as I was when I walked in!

      Let me add, a permanent handicapped pass can be applied for and received without entering a DMV office. Not so for the temporary. In the world of DMV this must make sense. Not to me.

  5. Geoff

    You have described everyone’s “worst day”, aka a trip to the DMV. I think that they only hire lazy, unskilled and uncaring people.

    Many states, specifically Califirnia have implemented customer (tax payer) tools to make the process much more efficient. CT is not one of those states.


    1. Dave – It is likely the DMV hires good people who want to help. It is the system which grinds them down. Remember, they’re in the same depressing atmosphere I was in, but they’re there eight hours a day!

      The one person I had contact with was very nice.

  6. “Before I go on, I know there is at least one DMV employee who reads my blog.”

    Don’t worry about offending me, Geoff. I don’t work in the Wethersfield office but I’ve been there enough to know what you mean about the “decor”. I work in the Willimantic and Putnam offices so it’s doubtful I’ll ever have the pleasure to wait on you. Luckily, the Willimantic office has lots of windows and so is not depressing and our tiny little trailer that we have for our satellite Putnam office is really worn down but the bonus of it being there at all makes up for it.

  7. Geoff,

    It’s really a sad looking place. And I bet that the looks of the place do not help the morale of the folks working there. Here we have the same ugly chairs, but my phone does work inside the building, and Solitaire is a good diversion.

    Last time I visited the California DMV, without an appointment, I might add, it was not all that bad.

    The building had the usual long line wrapped around it, but it was moving. I got there not long after it opened. What did not help was that their computer system crashed while I was waiting–that was most of the delay. Once the computer started back up, I was served in less than 20 minutes–and there were at least 15 people ahead of me.

    We also have the same goofy turn ticket system and the canned voice announcing the numbers–not something I would want to have where I work all day..

    Admittedly, it took almost three hours to get served from when I got in line, but the technician I talked to was friendly, extraordinarily helpful, and very competent. He was able to trace out a problem that had been plaguing me for over a year, and determined the root cause. It was sufficiently weird that it took him almost 20 minutes of steady computer work to even find my vehicle and what had gone goofy with my registration.

    Once he figured out what was wrong, he clearly explained the fix and what I had to do, and even took it upon himself to find the first convenient and available appointment to finish it up. When I found the missing paperwork, I returned for an appointment, and it was a 20-minute walk in the park to finish it up.

    Keep in mind that these are folks that are being beset by California budget cut furlough days and pay cuts, have to constantly deal with P-Oed members of the public, etc. Yet, with all this, I have never run into one with an attitude. Of course, I suspect that my approach to them being polite, respectful, genuinely sympathetic, and always saying thank you might have something to do with it.

    It seems the folks at the DMV, at least here, do try to do a good job in spite of the circumstances, and I’m sure it helps that the building has many windows that they can see out of…the California sunshine is a great motivator to get through the day with grace…

  8. I will never go to a different dmv office other than westbrook…the ppl there are terrific! For my mom to turn in her license and get a non.driverID, with her tremors, they had to dig out a digital camera and figure out how to upload to their system. They did! I felt guilt about all the ppl waiting behind us, but the clerk asked, “how many times have you waited patiently? Now you and your mom get served.” Love the westbrook office!

  9. I went to Hamden a couple weeks ago and was psyched that I was the second person for whatever letter I got. Then it turned out that there was only one person working on that letter and the person before me took 35 minutes at the window. Then after that person’s marathon session, the clerk went on break. I was about to go postal but then another window that had been doing a different letter switched to my category and then I was out in 2 minutes. I would have a lot more faith in their expediting system if people that arrived a half hour after me hadn’t been served before me by the same clerk that ended up serving me.

  10. I have a souveneir of my last experience at DMV, my thouroughly PO’d face on my drivers license. I’ll have that for another 6 years when as I’m sure nothing will have improved and I will get to do this all over again!
    Question I asked back then, How does the Governor and DMV Commissioner skirt having to visit DMV every 6 years????

  11. Well said Geoff,

    It’s a puzzlement to me that the agency which has direct contact with the most citizens in the state is operated out of such a dismal facility. Don’t blame the Commissioners, they have always been realistic about the deficiencies of the Wethersfield Headquarters building. Governors and OPM officials have refused to consider replacing DMV HQ for decaces. While UCONN, the community colleges, DOT, Public Safety and other agencies have been upgrading their buildings, DMV is locked in a building that would have been inadequate by 1950’s standards. DMV brings in millions of dollars a year in registration, license and other fees, yet it has the most substandard central office facility in state government. I hope that people will agree with you and urge Governor Malloy to use some of the state’s bonding capacity to replace the old building with a modern facility which is more inviting to customers and functional to the Department.

  12. Geoff- don’t bother coming to the bridgeport office. the people were decent there and you can get a snack if you are waiting but we waited two and a half hours for my daughter to take her written test and get her driver’s permit. Like your comment about the suicide hot line…With the back injury and surgery you had, you waited long enough.

  13. I’ve been to that office recently and that was after two trips to the DMV in Waterbury after finding out that the DMV in New Britain didn’t provide the service I was looking for (drivers license for my teenage son). What strikes me is this: Why are there all these people here? All we need from DMV is drivers licenses and registration renewals and these are renewed every few years. For some reason the DMV has made it necessary for hoards of people to take a day or two out of their schedule to wait on line even though there isn’t much from them that we need. I suspect if we came to our senses and discovered that there is no good reason that our licenses or registrations have any reason to expire we would still be have to visit these dreadful places.

  14. I showed my brother the picture of the DMV and my brother (recently of CT) goes “Yup. That looks about right. Taht is one good thing about living in po-dunk Nebraska you can register your car in ten minutes”. I know my small town in Nebraska can be boring but we can get things done in a reasonable amount of time. I loved my time in Connecticut. I don’t miss some of things about it including the DMV and the
    Emissions test for vehicles. Good Luck getting your pass.

  15. So, the state budget can’t afford to make these DMV offices more pleasant and efficient? But, they have money in the budget to add videos to the website? And they cannot print the Driver’s Manual for new drivers? They have to print it out off their computer online? What would it take to print a driver’s manual? No wonder kids cannot drive today.

  16. To a lot of people, the DMV is the most public face of state government. Whenever you get a bunch of people together to discuss some new government program, it’s inevitable that someone will say, “Do you want the same people who run the DMV to run ?” (I’ve heard the statement made about health care, which is wrong in at least two respects: government won’t be running health care, it’ll be regulating it, and I’m pretty sure they won’t be recruiting people from the DMV.)

    If I were ever elected governor (not likely), I’d make it a priority to fix up the DMV: online vehicle registration, online license renewal, an appointment system, facilities that don’t look like they were last painted during the Coolidge administration, etc. It’s all possible; we have the first three in California.

    By the way, nothing gets better if you want improvements but are unwilling to pay for them. If you want something to change, you should include the statement, “I think this is important, and I’d be willing to pay taxes for it,” or you should make a strong case for doing away with another program of equal size.

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