Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cash or Personal Check Only

The user experience problems associated with the Department of Motor Vehicles are legendary. It seems trite to even complain about them... it would like ordering a cheeseburger from McDonald's and then complaining that it didn't taste very good. True? Sure. Interesting? No.

But I couldn't let this go.

I renewed my driver's license this morning. In North Carolina, it costs $32, which seems pretty reasonable for something I only need to do a couple times a decade. But when it came time to pay, I couldn't do it. They only take cash or personal checks.

Personal checks?!? I don't remember the last time I wrote a personal check. If I needed to write a personal check, I'd need to ask my wife where she keeps them.

But personal checks aside, how is it possible that the DMV does not accept credit cards or debit cards in the Year 2009? At first, when I was driving around trying to find an ATM machine so I could pay for my new license, that was a rhetorical question born out of my exasperation. But then I thought, "Really... why don't they take credit cards?"

Here's what I came up with:
1. No one chooses to go to the DMV. We only go there when we have no other choice. And we can't choose to go a different, better DMV vendor. And the DMV isn't trying to drive up their customer numbers. There's no profit to attracting new customers, so the customer experience simply doesn't matter. Sure, it would make life easier on us if they took credit cards, but there's no clear incentive for them to want to make life easier for us.

2. Like large corporations, the government has a rollout scale problem. Sure, it would be really inexpensive to add a credit card payment option to my DMV location. But it's expensive to do it for every DMV location in the entire state. And phased rollouts are difficult for political reasons (who gets them first?) and in some cases, Equal Protection laws can make phased rollout unrealistic (though not in this case, I think). But the point is that pervasive change is hard to do on really large scales, even when the change is innocuous on a small scale.

3. I'm sure credit card machines would save the DMV money in the long run. There's a reason businesses are starting to refuse personal checks and encourage credit cards. But if you are an elected official, are you going to vote for something that will cost money now, but save money in the future, with a break even point well beyond your current term? Long term strategy is not rampant in the government.

Those are my theories anyway.

By the way, I took that picture in the DMV office this morning on my cell, so I apologize for the poor quality.