The first time I went to the license branch in Fort Wayne, back in the 1980s, it was like visiting a Turkish prison.
The main branch was in the dingy, dungeon-like basement of a building on Maiden Lane where you had to stand in line for a couple of hours to get your plates or renew your license.
The license branch was despised back then, and that didnt change when the office was moved to less depressing quarters. The BMV stood as a sort of symbol for everything that was wrong with government in general – inefficiency and indifferent employees who seemed to hate their jobs.
Once youve earned a reputation like that, its tough to shake.
In the past few years, though, the BMV has employed a new strategy for improving its image.
And its worked.
Last week, the BMV received the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators customer service award, an honor that officials say makes the BMV the best in the nation. It is the third time the agency has received the award in the past six years.
So whats the BMVs strategy to improve its image?
Try to keep people out of license branches.
Thats no joke, and it has worked.
In the past few years, the BMV has tried to steer Hoosiers toward the mail, computers and the phone to handle transactions such as renewing plates and renewing their drivers licenses. It has started using electronic transmission of information instead of paper documents so paperwork doesnt get lost.
We dont want people to go to the license branch if they dont have to, said Dennis Rosebrough, deputy commissioner for the BMV.
Renewing a drivers license or your plates is a lot more pleasant when you do it on your home computer.
Processing new vehicle titles has been improved, Rosebrough said. It used to take up to six weeks for people to get the title to a new car.
People werent focused on getting them processed, and theyd just stack up, he said.
Now they are done in three days.
Forms verifying that people who had auto accidents were insured used to get lost, and people would unexpectedly find out their licenses had been suspended. Just last year, the state started letting insurance companies file those verifications electronically, eliminating accidental suspensions.
Indiana used to use duplicate numbers on different types of license plates, so occasionally an innocent Volkswagen owner would get a letter from some other state demanding payment of a huge fine because a semi-rig with the same license number had failed to pay a toll. The BMV fixed that by eliminating duplicate license plates.
Oh, there are still complaints. About one in 25 license branch customers reports being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the BMVs service.
Were not perfect, Rosebrough said.
Some of those complaints, oddly, stem from the fact that when you renew your drivers license, you dont get it right away. The BMV mails it to you. Its all part of fraud prevention strategy.
Overall, Id have to say the BMV has cleaned up its act pretty well, judging by, if nothing else, the lack of complaints that I receive these days.
Thats good news for drivers in Indiana, but what am I going to write about now?