Celebrating Fourth of July, freedom to bash the MVA

This Just In...

July 05, 2002|By DAN RODRICKS

EVERY MARYLAND driver complains about the Motor Vehicle Administration. It's a tradition, passed from one generation to the next like a recipe for fruitcake, and we even take masochistic pleasure in it. There's no point in trying to get new tags at Mondawmin or Glen Burnie if you can't come home and tell your friends and relatives horror stories of endless lines, eye-glazing waits, stupefying station stops and grouchy bureaucrats drearily processing documents.

But that perception of the MVA might be based on old, bad experiences, not recent, benign ones. This columnist rarely receives a complaint about the registry anymore, and the last couple of times I went to Mondawmin people took care of me efficiently and even nicely. The MVA Express, once maligned as an oxymoron, has made renewing a driver's license relatively painless. (Relative to balloon angioplasty.)

And then there's the sympathetic idea that MVA employees are actually human beings, men and women stuck in the tedium of serving an impatient public at the rate of 7,100 registration renewals and 4,300 new titles a day.

So, somewhere along the way, I stopped knocking the MVA. I came to see it as a cheesy, easy thrill - like fishing for trout in a rubber swimming pool in a mall parking lot. It's no fun anymore, and it might not even be fair. But then Bonnie McCubbin's letter arrived, and I had to wonder if the MVA might still be fluorescent hell.

You'll like this: 15-year-old sophomore-gonna-be at C. Milton Wright High in Harford County takes her 82-year-old grandfather, Albert McCubbin, to the MVA office in Bel Air so he can get the handicapped tags from his late wife's car transferred to his name. He also needs to get the title of the vehicle changed from both names to just his, renew the tags, and get a replacement title for a second vehicle.

Sounds like trouble, doesn't it?

"When we arrived," Bonnie wrote, "we went first to get the handicapped tags changed at station 12. A young woman, about 20 to 25 years of age, began to wait on us. Then a friend of hers walked in, and without any word to us, the [MVA employee] pulled out an album, and started showing off recent wedding pictures. When the friend's husband walked in, both women started talking to him. Finally, when the [MVA employee] finished explaining a few pictures, and the couple was busy looking at other ones, she got back to us. I was shocked at her behavior. If I ever did something like that on a job, I would be fired. My grandfather was not able to stand the entire time, and was forced to sit down on low seats; which [made] it difficult to stand up again.

"Next, we went over to ... get the replacement title. The man there, about 25 years of age, was not pleasant or respectful. My grandfather had the check written for the tag renewal. He handed it to the man, and the man very nastily said, `It's going to be more than that!' My grandfather replied, `Well, how much more is it going to be? I'll just write you another check.' The man told him $23, and my grandfather proceeded to write the check. He was almost done, when the man said, `Wait! That's not right! It's going to be more than that!' Once again, he was rude. My grandfather asked him how much more it was going to be, and the man said that he didn't know, we would just have to wait until he figured it out."

Later, Bonnie wrote, the MVA employee was rude again when she asked how and when her grandfather would receive the revised title.

"I took honors government my freshman year and learned to respect the system we hold near and dear," Bonnie added. "All government agencies may not be the same as MVA, but I have lost much respect for such places. I am ashamed of the way our government allows people to act while in their employment."

I sent Bonnie's letter to the MVA, and Cheron Victoria Wicker, who handles press inquiries for what has historically been the most maligned agency in Maryland, got right on it - and right back.

"We are greatly disappointed about the service you received. Please accept our apology," Wicker wrote Bonnie, with a promise that Linda Colden, the Bel Air MVA manager, will "personally address" what happened during Grampy McCubbin's June 13 visit.

"We continually survey customers to help us understand our strengths and to identify areas needing improvement," Wicker wrote. "The Bel Air office consistently receives high ratings. ... In fact, 92% of customers using the Bel Air office have rated the customer service as good or very good. We take your concerns very seriously and are working to ensure that you will find future visits to the MVA satisfactory."

I told Bonnie she'd done a smart and responsible thing - expressing legitimate dissatisfaction with her government in a public way. Too many Americans just gripe and kvetch about their government while never lifting a pen or phone to register an official complaint. Bonnie McCubbin, young citizen of the U.S.A., spoke up for gramps and the rest of us. I wrote this column on the Fourth of July, and it kind of made my day. You know?

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