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Want to put companies profiting from DMV failures out of business? Then fix the agency

Want to put companies profiting from DMV failures out of business? Then fix the agency
A line of people wait to be helped at a California Department of Motor Vehicles Office stretches around the building at the South LA location on Aug. 7, 2018. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

It will probably not surprise you to learn that the troubled California Department of Motor Vehicles — still infamous for last year’s unconscionably long lines, technology failures and dysfunctional management — has a clunky and not particularly user-friendly online system for making appointments. So much so that one enterprising company has found a niche for itself offering to book you an online appointment so you don’t have to invest the time in (and experience the potential frustration of) doing it yourself.

For a fee, of course. The YoGov.org service promises an appointment within three to four weeks, which is apparently a lot better than what you may get if you try it yourself. The company offers other government-related services, such as a “concierge” who will wait in the line for you at the DMV for about $100 and expedited passport service, and it operates in about 20 states. But its appointment services in California are what prompted a crackdown by state officials.

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The DMV has been investigating the company, which it suspected of hoarding appointments, for months. But so far it lacks proof that the company is hoarding or doing anything that ordinary citizens can’t do in seeking an appointment. Then last month one legislator proposed a law that would criminalize the selling of appointments, even though the company claims it is only selling a booking service in which its employees do the work for you. The bill’s author, freshman Assemblyman Tyler Diep (R-Westminster) says he wants to ban third parties from selling appointments because they ought to be free to everyone. Well, if time is money, than there’s nothing free about having to wait months for an appointment or spend hours during the work day to wait in line.

That’s the wrong response to the problem. Certainly YoGov is capitalizing on failures at the DMV — the ludicrously long waits caused by a back of up people seeking Real IDs, and a computer system so problematic that it was registering noncitizens to vote and failing to register people who were eligible.

But there’s a better way to make YoGov and companies like it go away: Take away its market. If it were made easy to stop in at the DMV and register a car or get a driver’s license renewed, or to do so online, the need for appointments — and appointment booking services — would vanish. In-person wait times have improved dramatically since last summer and by December were down to just under 45 minutes for people without appointments. And DMV officials say they are working to make the online appointment system more efficient as well.

That’s good, but it will take much more than this to remake this government agency into something serving the needs of Californians in the 21st century.

8:40: An earlier version of this editorial had an incorrect url for YoGov.org.

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