Getting a line on the MVA ordeal Customers: Waits can be long and tempers can be short, but not everyone has an unpleasant experience when visiting a Motor Vehicle Administration office.

Intrepid Commuter

April 14, 1997

ADD ONE MORE thing to that short list of certainties in this life, next to death and taxes: some sort of wacky experience while attempting to register a car, get a driver's license or obtain plates at the Motor Vehicle Administration.

With this in mind, your Intrepid One recently embarked on a mystery tour of some of the state's MVA locations, staking out the public offices where such driver-related business is conducted in search of a flavor of the process. Then, an internal (and very informal) poll of Sun employees was taken to further illustrate these follies.

The experience is a mixed bag, depending on when you go, where you go and who you are.

Let's start with the "cattle lines" -- those famous winding chains of humanity found in many MVA offices and capable of bringing some to tears of frustration on any given day.

Lately, MVA administrators have tried to ease the waiting game by having a customer service representative issue numbers that flash across large red digital boards. When your number appears, it's show time.

Last week, though, at the mother ship, MVA headquarters in Glen Burnie, it was difficult to focus on the flashing numbers because a competing red digital board displayed ticker-tape-style horoscopes, movie reviews and advertisements for designer license plates.

"Don't overspend your budget," the board warned Tauruses, while Virgo's daily message spoke to the ultimate requirement of being an MVA customer: "Be patient."

One driver recently found the lines at MVA's Mondawmin Mall office so daunting that she took evasive action.

"I picked up my number, and there were 60-some people ahead of me in line," Patricia Respers told your wheelster. "So I went home, took a shower, threw a steak under the broiler, ate, changed my clothes and went back to the MVA. When I walked in, there was less than a five-minute wait for my turn."

Such timing is rare. Many have merely resigned themselves to sit on MVA's metal benches and wait it out.

A Sun staffer reported that the lines were so long one January day at Mondawmin that tempers flared between two customers, one male and one female. After a shouting match broke out, a Maryland state trooper separated the angry drivers by placing them in different lines. But the yelling continued into the MVA parking lot while shocked customers looked on.

Other Sun employees and ex-employees reported that the lines at various offices moved quickly, some entering and exiting the MVA's parking lot with mission accomplished in less than 30 minutes.

"It was almost too easy," former editor James Keat said of his recent quest for a disabled parking permit.

"I was in and out of there in under 10 minutes, including the eye exam, picture and the whole ball of wax," said Tony Waytekunas, who works in the Sun business news department and was getting a new license.

A Sun editor who had to return tags lucked out by finding the correct line seconds after she entered the automatic door leading to Glen Burnie's extensive ground-floor offices.

"There was no line," Jo Bremer said. "The clerk was pleasant and took the tags. I asked where the duplicate-title counter was. I hopped up there and pulled number 81 -- they were on 77 -- and I had just enough time to fill in the duplicate tag paperwork before the number was called. Less than 10 minutes later, I was out of there."

Still, the process can have its share of paperwork snags. For example, when MVA clerks working the counters look at your application and deem it unworthy or incomplete. At the MVA driver's license office in Glen Burnie, Intrepid found a bureaucratic jungle.

A large variety of forms must be filled out for yet another variety of driver's license classifications. It takes a traffic cop stationed at the door to direct drivers to their proper papers. Then, customers must begin a wait in three lines -- for the license, the picture and then the finished product.

One Sun staffer found the process akin to a visit to "The Outer Limits."

He went to Glen Burnie in May seeking a duplicate driver's license after losing his license. He had no sooner filled out the forms than he was confronted by a glaring MVA clerk who informed him that he could not get a duplicate Maryland license because MVA records showed he had a suspended California driver's license.

"To which I replied: 'I have never been to the state of California in my life,' " Michael James told the clerk. "She said, 'According to our records, you have.' "

This back and forth went on for two days, until California officials faxed a picture of the West Coast culprit to Glen Burnie. Both men had the same name, date of birth and blond hair and blue eyes -- but the truth surfaced with the mug shot.

It turns out that James' MVA inquisition was based on a premise of guilty until proved innocent.

"Nobody likes to be treated like they are lying," he told Intrepid. "I was telling them the truth until I was blue in the face. It was a bit of a harrowing experience."

Next week: Customers respond.

Pub Date: 4/14/97

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