Mark Washburn

How to fix the long DMV lines (hint: It involves liquor)

ABC liquor stores might hold the key to relieving long lines at the DMV.
ABC liquor stores might hold the key to relieving long lines at the DMV.

I can fix this.

I can fix that.

And we’ll all be better off because we’re going to solve Problem A with Problem B.

If you’ve been to the Department of Motor Vehicles lately, you’ve probably noticed a throng of humanity roughly equal to the population of Hong Kong wilting in front of you by the hour, all parties patiently waiting to be told they brought the wrong documents and will need to return.

This is a grand tradition in North Carolina, a pageant of befuddlement a century strong. Even on a good day, the DMV’s rituals are strict, formal and unyielding. But there haven’t been many good days lately.

For one thing, people are showing up in pesky obedience to the command to get their driver’s licenses supersized before 2020 into a “Real ID” that will enable them to get through airport security or stroll into a nuclear plant.

Second, there are vacant clerical positions in the department, which adds to the delays.

For a solution, let us turn to the most archaic, bygone, antiquated division of government, the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. Chugging along since 1937, this agency ensures that liquor is distributed in various regions according to a variety of policies overseen by a constellation of local boards that operate iron-clad monopolies.

To best serve customers, liquor dispensaries are largely hidden from public view, wouldn’t dream of advertising prices and take evenings and Sundays off. Their marketing slogan is, “Come get the plague.”

This positions them wonderfully to solve the other problem. Since the state oversees the ABC stores, why not deputize them all to handle routine matters that take many people to DMV offices — things like registrations, buying plates or supersizing driver’s licenses.

Some services will still require your presence at the DMV, such as taking driver tests or administrative hearings, but many of the other functions can be offered by training ABC clerks to handle them, the way some convenience stores act as mini-post offices.

It’s only a matter of time (well, maybe decades) before sports gambling comes to North Carolina, and ABC stores could serve as the sales points for those activities as well. ABC stores already sell lottery tickets.

Where are we supposed to get enough clerks to handle the increase in business that vehicle services will entail? Add a $2 convenience fee for DMV transactions at ABC stores. Those customers who don’t want to pay it are welcome to go to the DMV to get their bargain.

Let’s also talk about using state inmates in some of those positions. Low-risk, non-violent offenders in the work-release phase of their sentences could be useful in such roles.

If successful, it would help them build up potential resumes with demonstrated retail experience and local references. Ex-cons face barriers to employment; this could ease that problem for a deserving number.

So let’s review.

We’ve solved the backlog at the DMV.

We’ve given the ABC folks something to do besides hide the merchandise.

And we’ve made a small advance in prison reform.

Not a bad day. Unless someone’s got a better idea.