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Can the DMV operate like it is 2014?

Travel can be difficult, right? There are the lines, the germs, the TSA feel-ups. Some people cringe at the thought of sitting in an enclosed bacteria-infested capsule rocketing through the air on jet petrol known as an airplane. Then there’s the fees, the bags, the delays, and the weather everywhere north of Florida. But for some, like me, I love to travel because despite the above there is the reunion with friends and family, the exploration of places that would once take months to see by ship, and the possibility of learning and growing–and learning and growing I did last week in Auckland, New Zealand.

This isn’t an article about how many Kiwi I met or what the glaciers looked like. This is an article about how I learned that the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles is ridiculous and someone needs to talk about it. New Zealand and the DMV you may ask…how can something so beautiful be discussed with something that evokes a stomach-turning cringe of annoyance? That’s a good question and I will explain.

While I was taking a shower in my hotel room in Auckland, there was an electrical fire near the TV outlet that melted a stack of things I had on the counter—a visa card, a faculty ID, and my Florida driver’s license. Things I had separated out for the day before going for a shower. When I smelled the mess and came to the scene it was too late, the cards were melted beyond recognition. I was shocked—but safe. I was not worried about the items because at that point they were not essential to my journey…yet. I called Visa and they were to have a card to me in a day. I wouldn’t have called about my driver’s license at all except for the next week I had booked a rental car in the south island of New Zealand.

First, I called the rental car company and asked if proof of my driving eligibility would be enough simply by showing them my driving status on the Florida website. They told me, “no” that I had to have a real ID card that was a valid driver’s license. I called a few other rental car companies and asked the same question about simply showing them my valid driver’s status on line—and to no avail, each car company wanted me to possess a real plastic driver card. Well crap. Now what?

So, I called the Tallahasse DMV and waited for a representative. After 20 minutes someone came on the line. I explained what happened and that I needed a copy of my driver’s license overnighted to New Zealand. I would pay whatever the cost to expedite it overseas (after all the hotel would be paying). Normally at home in Florida when you move addresses it costs 20-25 dollars to have one sent to your new house, so I figured this would be about a 100 dollar deal.

I was told that I hadn’t filled out some special form at home in Tampa, so therefore I was not eligible to have a third party carrier (FedEx) ship me a driver’s license. The rep told me she could Email me that paper to approve the third party carrier. “Great” I said. She then told me I had to MAIL the signed document with a “payment” back to Tallahassee. “Why can’t I Email it back to you?” I asked. She told me it was not possible. I asked why. She told me because I needed to send payment. “Great” I said—I would Email my credit card number just as we do on the DMV site to order those 25 dollar driver’s licenses. “It’s not possible” she told me—it has to be mailed. So I asked, “does that mean you need a check?” She answered in the affirmative. I was flabbergasted. I asked her, “Why are we still using checks for anything?”

So this was our first point of contention. There was “no way” in her view that we could work around this mail issue. Plus, it needed to be approved anyway and that wouldn’t happen within a week. You can imagine her call-center happiness as she explained. When I asked for her supervisor she told me that she was the supervisor and this was the final answer.

So, I went on to option two. My next inquiry was, instead of having a third party put its paws on my license, how about the DMV itself mail it to me. I told her I would order my duplicate license online, but instead of waiting the 7-10 days for it to be mailed to my home in Tampa, could someone please grab it from (the production line? I’m not sure how these things get made) the printer and put it in an office FedEx envelope for me and I would pay the 60-100 dollars it would cost. She told me no.

“Why?” I asked. Why can’t someone simply print and send me my license. She did not have a realistic answer other than simply, “that’s not the way it works.” I told her I was confused, this is 2014. The DMV can print a license while you wait. Why can’t someone simply print it and mail it to me at my expense. Nope. Nada. #becauseIsaidso. Now, I’m not an unrealistic person and I understand how people may think there will be espionage identity theft going on with my Florida driver’s license; or that I might actually be my 17-year-old cousin trying to score a fake ID. I get it. So what I asked for next may be more realistic.

My third and final request was to have someone FedEx it to my home in Tampa. I figured one day to Tampa (at my expense) and then I would have James at home Fed Ex it to New Zealand and the timing would work out that way. At the very latest, I could have it shipped to the car company in the south island. But, you guessed it! No. The Florida DMV could not print and FedEx or overnight my license to my own home in Tampa. Not possible. When I asked why I got a, “sir, is there anything else I can do for you?”–response. I was furious. I hung up before saying something nasty.

I believe in smaller government, but more than that I believe in more efficient government—but to the benefit of the people; not the offices only. Who did this exchange benefit? No one. I had a 40 dollar international phone bill and no license. I had a car rental on the horizon and a possible cancelation and complete change in travel plans (the things mentioned above people hate about travel). I didn’t ask for my license to go up in smoke. I had photocopies of it, but that wasn’t going to work for my purposes.

So, my point in writing this is to bring to discussion the antiquated way our services are dealing with people in 2014. A check? Really? When was the last time you wrote a check—the mortgage? The rent? A garage sale? Seriously people. Next, Florida is the 4th largest state in the union now. Why don’t we act like it? Instead of hiding behind “that’s the way things have always been done” why don’t we LEAD the nation and use the technology we have available to us? Florida launches (launched) shuttles, has Disney World, some of the busiest seaports in the nation, and the wealth of knowledge of retirees from around the country. Why are we doing things like it is 1988? Instead of buying iPads for school kids we should be cleaning up organizations by using technology to make things more efficient.

So, there I was in my hotel room and potentially out of driving options. It was not until a day later I woke up in the middle of the night with a solution—one which worked, but is not worth typing here. What my solution didn’t include was any help from the Florida DMV.

What I can’t help but think is how my situation is not the only one, but rather one of many. How many times has a neighbor of ours lost their license before boarding a plane only to meet this sort of lack-of help? What about the others abroad like me who have had their wallets lost or stolen while traveling—and have not had any help from their home state? Why can’t our government systems at least pretend to start working together? I can get cleared for US Customs Global Entry with nothing more than an online form and my passport; but can’t use any amount of money to have a Florida license mailed to me. Things have to change.

So, as a traveler I can see how traveling can be frustrating. The lines, the sneezing babies and crying parents—I get it. I too was super frustrated with my situation in New Zealand. I managed to solve my problem with a little creativity and the use of that unspent FedEx money in other ways. We must remember while traveling that we are learning. I learned the hard way that it is time for us to voice our concerns with how Florida’s DMV runs in 2014—and for that we can thank the beautiful and polite country of New Zealand.

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