Ohio applying ‘call ahead seating’ method to BMV for efficiency, customer service


Those who were among the first to try the program said it has potential, but there are bugs that need to be fixed

COLUMBUS (WKBN) – When you know your favorite restaurant is going to be packed, sometimes you can call ahead and get on “the list” to begin your waiting process as you gather up your family and make your way there. The same could happen in the future when you have to go to the BMV.

When you arrive at the restaurant after having been put on “the list,” you save yourself precious minutes of time and frustration by virtually skipping having to wait for a table.

The DeWine Administration is trying to do a similar thing with service at the BMV. It’s the place just about everyone dreads going to because they know for the next unknown amount of time, they will be sucked into a vortex of despair waiting, and waiting and waiting while life passes them by.

That is, until now.

A new pilot program announced Monday will be in place at 12 BMV locations around the state. Most of the locations are in central Ohio, with only a few in areas away from the central hub. There are none locally.

The pilot program is an online check-in, much like call ahead seating.

You go to the BMV website and select the program “Get in Line Online” button.

Punch in your zip code and you’re given a list of participating locations. You can then see what the average wait times are at the ten closest locations to you.

Select the one you want to go to, and sign in using your information and phone number.

Once you’ve done that, you’ll get a text confirmation, then another text when it is getting close to your turn at the front of the line.

You have a four-hour window to go do what you need to do and at your leisure, swing by the BMV and pop into the line.

When you get there, you’ll check in with your phone number at a kiosk and be put in your place in line, but never higher than three from the front.

With at least two people in front of you, there will still be a little bit of a wait, but officials are hoping it isn’t too long.

Meanwhile, all of the people who didn’t know about the program or didn’t take advantage of it who have been sitting in line for 45 minutes will get to see you breeze in and, basically, go straight to the front of the line.

Some would say privilege has its perks and there were plenty of people who think this is a pretty good idea.

They’re busy people with busy lives like Angela Francis, who has waited in a BMV line for two hours in the past. She was ready to try the new program immediately.

As she was driving up to the BMV, she saw signs for the program on the doors and tried it out in the parking lot.

She saw the wait was only eight minutes, so she signed up to check it out and went inside because to her, that wasn’t too long of a wait.

“I think it’s really beneficial not having to come and sit for two hours while I could go get other stuff done,” Francis said.

Turns out, the system still has a few bugs to work out.

Francis and a few others who tried it out Monday found the wait time was miscalculated. Because they all looked at it and decided to sign up at the same time, it gave all of them the same estimated wait time of eight minutes.

Ultimately, some of them ended up waiting closer to 30 minutes to be served.

“It’s a pilot program, right? You’ve got to expect it’s not going to work perfectly the first time, probably, but it’s good,” said Janet Reiss, one of the early adopters.

Still, Reiss said she won’t be using the system for another two years or so.

That brings up an issue some have with this approach — people don’t go to the BMV all that often.

The BMV gets roughly 16 million visits annually but for many people, it’s just to get or renew their driver’s license.

People who lease their vehicle never have to visit the BMV for registration or tags of their plates. The dealer handles the former and the latter can be done through the mail.

“I can’t tell you the last time I came to the BMV for that. The only time I come is for my actual license,” John Fandrich said.

Fandrich was at the BMV Monday for his driver’s license. He also tried the system and was less than impressed, mostly due to the bugs causing longer waits than anticipated.

That brings us back to our restaurant analogy.

“It’s like a restaurant. If you go in and you know that you are waiting 15 minutes, you’re excited to be seated in 15 minutes. If it takes 45, you’re gonna be a little bit frustrated. It’s almost better to not give a time than to be really wrong on the time,” Fandrich said.

He, Reiss and Francis all agreed the system has potential, but the bugs need to be worked out.

How much time it really saves is up in the air.

The system will provide data to the state that will allow for better management oversight of the branches. They will be able to identify someone who is just slow at certain types of tasks and may need more training, for instance.

It will also provide the state with a wealth of other data and as the governor pointed out, things really need to change.

When reflecting on recent wait times at BMV locations around Ohio that averaged over an hour, DeWine said, “We certainly can do better than this.”

The $20,000 pilot project hopes to prove that. If it does, it will cost an estimated $80,000 to purchase the equipment for the rest of the state and an undetermined amount of money to pay for the software and maintenance of it.

Lt. Governor Jon Husted said that is something they would have to talk to the legislature about.

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