Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Dealing with Bureaucracies--Lines

In dealing with its public, a bureaucracy has to connect to its customers, which usually means setting up a sequence to deal with them and, sometimes, fitting them into service categories. Today I experienced some variations on this:

  • Visited the VA DMV to renew my driver's license. In their system, you first line up to reach an information window, where the clerk assesses your situation and fits you into the bureaucratic cubbyhole (license renewal, vehicle registration, id card, more documents needed, interpreter needed), tells you what to fill out and gives you a code number. An automated PA announcement system calls out the code numbers to go to the various windows. This morning there was maybe a 15-minute wait. So I sat waiting for the call and fussing to myself over whether someone who arrived after me was being served before you. I couldn't tell, because there were different number sequences according to the type of transaction. It would seem the different clerks specialized in different transactions. [I know I should have faith in the system and I really do, but it is a weakness. The strength, at least this morning, is that people were informed quickly of where they fit--they didn't spend 20 minutes waiting for a clerk only to find they needed more information.]
  • Later I visited the post office. You took a number from the machine and waited for your number to be called. There was only the one sequence, meaning every clerk had to be able There they had a number system, just like my barbershop, where every clerk could handle most any transaction. As with the barbershop, you could tell your place in line was safe.
  • Finally I hit the Safeway. You get your groceries, pick the checkout line--express or regular--and wait in line.

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