Citizen complaint of the day: Why does the city make it so hard to get married?

A nuptials-wantin' citizen complains:

Rampant inefficiency: to get a marriage license, you have to stand in a long line to get a form and then get back in line to submit. Turns a 30 minute process into an hour-long ordeal. Why isn't this available online? Hell - why isn't there a stack of forms on a table?

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    Comments

    look, that's stupid

    By on

    Why can't you download the form / fill it out online, and then *bring it in to the clerk*?

    Then they can give you the hairy eyeball all they want, but then you're not taking up time asking for the form, space filling it out, and the form is super readable, or never even has to be in paper format in the first place, it just goes straight into the relevant databases?

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    OP just wanted the form.

    By on

    I think the complaint was that you had to stand in line just to get a piece of paper, then stand in line again. So what is the harm in providing the form online, so you can download it, fill it out at home, then bring it to City Hall and only stand in line once. The clerk still gets to see both people. Or just put the forms someplace you can access them without waiting in line.

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    The way it was explained to

    By on

    The way it was explained to me is that the form is somewhat complete and must be filled out perfectly. For example, if we put Brighton as our city instead of Boston, we'd have to redo the form. There can be nothing crossed out or rewritten. I'm sure they explain that when they give you the form, hence the line.

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    Few people are that illiterate

    By on

    They could, you know, have the instructions on line!

    Better yet, they could have a fillable form that wouldn't take the wrong answers!

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    That's a great argument for putting the form online,

    By on

    that way you can type everything, check for errors, then print the form once and sign it.

    Why are we still handwriting anything on government forms other than the signature in 2014?

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    That's a bullshit explanation you gave you.

    How about, a sign above the stack of forms that reads, "Form must be filled out accurately and completely, with nothing crossed out or rewritten."

    Honestly, the idea of waiting in line for a half hour to have some clerk tell you that is pretty offensive.

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    Fair enough

    By on

    but knowing actual people, unless it's emphasized, people are likely to ignore or not notice something written out like that in the instructions.

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    Fine, so people who can't

    Fine, so people who can't follow directions can wait in line twice, and the rest of us get to do it just once. It would still be more efficient than everyone waiting twice.

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    In NYC you can do the form

    In NYC you can do the form online and submit it, but you need to go into the Clerk's office in person and present ID which confirms the information on the form in order to pick up the actual license.

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    And just wait until...

    By on

    ...it's time to get divorced. Those are rarely efficient. Prepare to be really ticked off when that happens. Can't wait for that citizen complaint.

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    Handy hint

    Here's a handy hint: to get married in Massachusetts, you have to get your marriage license in Massachusetts. However, you can get it at ANY city hall, in ANY city in the Commonwealth. Rather than going to Boston City Hall, hubby and I got ours in Cambridge.
    http://www.cityofboston.gov/registry/marriage/faq.asp

    (Handy hint #2: anybody at all can perform your marriage. They don't have to get ordained by the Universal Life Church or anything - all they have to do is get a One Day Marriage Designation.)
    http://www.mass.gov/governor/getinvolved/onedaymarriage/

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    totally random, but why not...

    By on

    Not that I plan on ever getting married, but this reminded me of something that happened when my sister got married in Texas. There, similar to here, you can get a license from any county, so a few decided that they would print up really pretty, fancy ones suitable for framing and then collect the fees that would otherwise go to the couple's local county. Are there any cities or towns that do something like that around here?

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    Yes we used Cambridge as well

    By on

    Yes we used Cambridge as well even though we lived in Boston, because they are actually open in the evening one day a week, instead of 9-5 Boston where they assume you will just take a day off to apply for a license. Another reason to file elsewhere.

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    9-4

    By on

    Boston City Hall is open 9-4, not 9-5. And the marriage license office is closed Wednesdays.

    I went to Cambridge. They're open late on Mondays and the license was $20 cheaper than Boston ($30 vs $50.)

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    Got mine in Randolph

    By on

    A town neither of us had a connection to (other than it being the home of the reception hall.) It was quick, and the clerk said that they would call the week of the wedding (we were there 6 weeks out) to make sure we didn't forget.

    The best line, though, was from an old high school classmate who worked across the hall at Town Hall. He claimed we picked Randolph as it had the lowest fees for marriage licenses. I believe the fees have been standardized by the Commonwealth, so no more of that.

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    It is that way on purpose.

    By on

    Not to mention that it's a state matter, not a City matter as the state sets the regulations for the issuance of marriage certificates. I've witnessed the process many times, it's not particularly inefficient, considering that the staff in the Registry Division are required to make sure that every detail on the form must be exact with no room for error. Furthermore, marriage is a commitment, so if the complainer has an issue with the time it takes to apply for a marriage certificate, they should probably reconsider getting married. Theoretically, applying for a certificate isn't a regular thing for most people and they don't get too many repeat customers. If a couple wants to get married, they both need to be there to apply (with some exceptions made for health and military issues) under oath. In Boston though, once one fills out the form and makes the payment, they are allowed to cut the line to get the claim check (to come back after the statutory three day waiting period). I am a Justice of the Peace and I tell my clients that they should probably commit about an hour to obtaining their marriage certificate (or the better part of the day if they want a Marriage Without Delay waiver from the Probate Court), regardless of town.

    Also, it should be noted that marriage certificates in Boston are not handled by Maureen Feeney or anyone at the City Clerk's office, but by the Registry Division.

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    "If you don't like the delay, reconsider getting married."

    That's a completely bullshit argument. It's one thing to be prepared to commit to a lifetime together, with all sorts of crap the real world throws at you: sick kids, job loss, etc. It's completely another for an office whose job it is to serve the public, to be so badly mismanaged that you have to wait in line for half an hour to have someone hand you a blank form. Being (understandably) offended by the latter has no bearing whatsoever upon one's commitment to marriage.

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    Registry Division? Yeesh

    By on

    I'm sure there's a good reason there's a separate registry division, but in any case, I've updated the original post to remove the references to Ms. Feeney (whom I thought was involved because of the brouhaha over the city council limiting how much money she could make marrying people).

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    City Clerk

    Ah, but she CAN marry people, she's a Justice of the Peace. It's just that it's not the City Clerk's office that issues the licenses....

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    FEENEY!!!!!!

    By on

    FEEENEEEEEY!!!

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    The irony...getting a

    By on

    The irony...getting a Marriage Without Delay waiver involves a one-day delay in your schedule.

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    BAH

    There is no legitimate reason that the form can't be online or on a side table as suggested. The state wants to make sure you feel like you're not getting fleeced for your $50 fee (even though you are)

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    Depends on what is involved, though

    By on

    I didn't get married in Massachusetts, so I'm not sure exactly how the process works here, but up in Vermont, you filled out a form, handed it to the clerk, who then took your form and typed it up (literally, with a typewriter) and had you check it to make sure there were no errors.

    So even if you did fill out the form in advance, you would still need to wait while the clerk/registrar finalized everything and made sure you didn't make a mistake somewhere. Considering the legal weight of a marriage license/certificate, I'm ok with the extra effort that goes into it.

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    Read the complaint again

    The complaint was not that you need to wait in line to have a clerk review your form, it's that you need to wait in line to get the blank form, which you then fill out and bring back to wait in line for the clerk. Nobody has yet suggested any legitimate reason why you would need to wait in line for the blank form, rather than have a stack of them on the counter.

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    Sometimes.....

    Notaries use special and/or numeric specific forms. That may or may not be the case here.

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    Not to point out the obvious

    but the entire purpose of that office, in fact the entire purpose of the city government, is to serve the needs of the people. If the use of special or numbered forms makes what should be a simple process into a complex one, thereby wasting the time of the people whom the office's sole purpose is to serve, then, umm, gee, how about redesigning the process so as not to require numbered forms?

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    Well notaries have a purpose.

    Like birth and death certificates, some legal forms have to be organized and filed in a specific way per state law.

    This would especially be true if it needed to be done on special paper. (I dont think marrige licences are on special paper in Boston)

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    For final documents, yes

    But with weddings, there is an officiant and witnesses for that purpose.

    This is the application we are talking about here. This is not the final license, nor is it the final registration of the license or marriage. Of course, that application being electronic in other states (such as NY, among others) means that such ridiculousness as fancy paper and notaries and all of that is clearly unnecessary for this particular situation requiring administration of vital records.

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    Maybe maybe not....

    Who knows how much extra fraud, extra work, re-mailings, etc happen in these other states? Like i said, I don't think the fancy paper has anything to do with it.

    It doesnt make too much sense to me either, im thinking it has to to with the invalidation of the appliacation after 60 days if it isnt filled put properly?

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    Take a step back...

    ... You're defending a process that causes applicants for a marriage license to wait first in one line to pick up a form, and then in a second line to turn the form in.

    Just stop.

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    I'm questioning, not defending.

    You and I don't know what the process is, or why it happens to be that way. All we have is a complaint on the internet from an anon. There could be a good reason for the process, or this person could have been wrong, or maybe the process needs to be changed. I don't know, and it sounds like you don't know either.

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    I'm speaking from experience

    I'm in City Hall and 1010 a lot more often than the average person, so I have personal experience with a lot of extremely broken processes involved in doing business with the city.

    There could be a good reason for the process,

    Call me lacking in imagination if you must, but I cannot imagine a good reason for making people wait in line to fill out paperwork.

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    Imagine this instead

    Once, years ago, at the registry, an employee came out to start handing out forms to the people who were waiting in line. I offered to take them and hand them out so that she could get back to serving the people in line. I actually thought she was going to hit me.

    How does it make life any harder for the people in the office to assign one clerk to handing out forms and another to processing the filled-in forms, instead of putting a stack of forms on the counter and then assigning two clerks to processing the forms?

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    Reason for double line

    By on

    Off the top of my head, the office could want the process to require double lines to keep double the headcount necessary for the job at hand. Nice big budget and jobs for all your friends.

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    the real question is...

    By on

    why is it so easy to get married when it's so difficult - and expensive - to get divorced.
    if more vetting and consideration were done at one end, we'd have less of the other end.

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    Really?

    By on

    Huh... My wife and I were in and out in less than 20 minutes.

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    TMI!!!

    By on

    TMI!

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    This is a dumb policy.

    I only had to stand in line one other time to get an application. That was when I was applying for my firearms permit. The city of Boston requires all applicants to go to Boston Police headquarters, and pick up a form in person (Boston has its own form and will not accept the Massachusetts form found online). I expect this level of inconvenience for a firearms license, but not in any way for a marriage license.

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    Perhaps we have it backwards

    By on

    I'm not a big fan of anyone keeping guns in the house, but maybe it SHOULD be harder to get married than to get a gun. ;-)

    On the point at hand - if they are so exacting about the details - I think it would be infinitely easier to fill the form out on-line - if there's an error, the clerk can correct it, file it process it or do whatever else they have to do right on the spot by hitting the return key - instead of handing you another form and say do it again. Sounds very 20th century - to me - or even 19th century if you really have to stand in line just to get the form in the first place.

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    Too funny!

    A PDF which is similar to the federal IRS PDF would be ideal. I didn't even think of that. It irks me that the MA form doesn't allow this. I can see that eliminating lots of transposition errors. Good idea.

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    We live in Mass but married in Providence

    Much to my surprise, we had to go to Providence City Hall to get our marriage license. Traffic on the Southeast Distressway sucked worse than usual and we literally walked into the building as it was closing. Signage was confusing, though, yet some suits (I imagine city workers or politicians) were happy to point us to the right office. The clerks were happy to stay late and help and we made friendly small talk. I imagine it's not that way in Boston or anywhere you have a long line and a process designed to slow things down.

    I don't understand why all city halls can't be friendly. I know they have to deal with some crazies and all sorts of regulations, but they can still be nice.

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    I hear divorce is even worse

    takes longer, costs more etc.

    I was a witness/photographer for friends getting married last summer at Boston City Hall. Everybody was really nice there. So too were people on the street seeing them in wedding attire and offering congratulations. Nurses in the maternity ward are also nice. These are happy events in life.

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    I wasn't annoyed by waiting

    By on

    I wasn't annoyed by waiting to get the form. We didn't know that you needed cash, not a check, to get married. Figured the city would prefer a check. Luckily there is an ATM just 2 flights down.

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    Checks bounce.

    Cash and money orders are often the standard for municipal governments. Now credit cards are accepted many places as well (with the fee picked up by the "customer" or City agency.)

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    Not in my experience

    I pay property tax 4x per year in two different municipalities. I pay the water bill in two and the electric bill in one. In Boston I obtain parking permits; pay parking tickets; pay excise tax, and get a dog license. All by check. I just checked online and Boston accepts checks for building permits, as well as for certified copies of birth, death, and marriage certificates, for the one-day special event liquor licenses, and for a whole pile of other things I'm too lazy to look up at the moment.

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    Depends on the department.

    When checks bounce, there are safeguards in place to cancel permits, registrations, licenses, etc. These departments can then add on late fees or other fees associated with the bad check.

    A marriage license must be obtained 60 days after the form is submitted, so getting fees for bounced checks might not be feasible.

    Do you really think they don't accept checks just to be inefficient? Checks are always easier to account for, and the same office takes checks for other fees, so I don't see why they wouldn't take them for this. Like your comment above, there are probably reasons why they don't accept checks that would satisfy the average person.

    This right here....

    When checks bounce, there are safeguards in place to cancel permits, registrations, licenses, etc. These departments can then add on late fees or other fees associated with the bad check.

    take the example of obtaining a certified copy of a birth certificate. What safeguards are in place there? Once the customer walks out the door with the certificate in hand, what recourse is there if the check bounces, that wouldn't also be the case with a marriage license.

    there are probably reasons why they don't accept checks that would satisfy the average person.

    Which, of course, they don't bother to explain.

    I think the default explanation for any broken process has to be, "because nobody has an incentive to fix it," rather than "there must be some good reason."

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    ok

    take the example of obtaining a certified copy of a birth certificate. What safeguards are in place there? Once the customer walks out the door with the certificate in hand, what recourse is there if the check bounces, that wouldn't also be the case with a marriage license.

    Again, I don't know (and neither do you), but being an internet poster like yourself, I can guess or speculate. The marriage license situation is a 2-3 step process, and each process depends on the other steps. If you bounce a check in step 1, step 2 can't be processed. If a step 2 form is already accepted within the 60 day time limit and the step 1 check bounces within that time frame, then the whole process can be effected. This causes more work for everyone and can tax the office, costing taxpayers money. The Birth Certificate is a one and done process. You can follow up with the bounced check (w/ID) like you would with any other bounced check process.

    Or maybe you are right and the account just doesn't match up to the accounts of the other municipal departments? Maybe this department should get their act together and accept checks and be more efficient.

    I do know that sometimes money will go from one agency to another agency. If the check bounces on one end, getting the money back from the other agency can be a time/cost issue. But maybe they can fix that process as well.

    Which, of course, they don't bother to explain.

    How do you know they didn't bother to explain? What did they tell you? What did they tell this anon on the citizen complaint app?

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    I think that's the issue

    The marriage license situation is a 2-3 step process...

    Right there - does it have to be?

    I only got married 8 years ago and I can't remember the process - it's all a blur. ;-)
    I do remember that it was painless, though we did everything on a small island off Maine and dealt with the town clerk who processed the forms and met us the next day to marry us.

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    The reason is simple

    MA is now and always has been deeply mistrustful of this newfangled check thing.

    I was amazed at how ridiculous it was when I moved in.

    Our kids school expects them to carry sometimes as much as several hundred dollars in cash to school - SEVERAL HUNDRED DOLLARS!! - rather than take a check for a school trip, etc. They expect people to spend hundreds of dollars on money orders for things like school lunches and T passes (these can only be done monthly, btw ... so ten separate ones, each with a fee, for each thing).

    Just freaking ridiculous. They should set up a damn pay-pal or credit account system that seems to work for zillions of schools nation wide if they can't imagine this scary check thingy.

    I understand the bouncing problem - but not the "can't take validated get money now credit cards with a chargeback on the fee" problem. Or the we can't "set up an account that will only be available when it clears" problem. Also makes no sense when they take checks for water, sewer, etc.

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    Consistency is the issue

    I have no problem with a city deciding it's not going to take checks for transactions that are essentially non-recourse. I do have a problem with arbitrary differences, such as why they take checks for dog licenses and certified copies of birth certificates but not for marriage licenses.

    I know they don't bother to explain

    How do you know they didn't bother to explain? What did they tell you? What did they tell this anon on the citizen complaint app?

    I know they don't bother to explain, because I can read

    https://www.cityofboston.gov/registry/marriage/licenses.asp

    What's most interesting to me, here, is that we have an organization with a well-established reputation for having business processes that are stuck in the 1950s, for which any private company would be laughed right out of business, with plenty of data to back that reputation up, and your reaction seems to be to make the assumption that they do what they do for good and valid reasons.

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    Holy Crap

    You think a website is going to explain the reasons why it does or does not accept certain types of payment? Thats on you, not them.

    And guess who else doesnt accept checks? (Not one of these places explains why they dont either, again that seems to be a problem with you, not me)

    Miami:

    https://www2.miami-dadeclerk.com/MobilePortal/MLBFAQs.aspx#What%20is%20t...?

    New York:

    http://www.cityclerk.nyc.gov/html/marriage/license.shtml

    Dallas (ONLY a money order actually)

    https://www.dallascounty.org/countyclerk/marriage-license.php

    But no, lets forget the best city in the world that does everything right....Portland, Oregon. Guess What? CASH ONLY!?!?!?! You want a copy of your record in Portland, OR? $12.50 extra fee if you want to pay by credit card?!

    https://web.multco.us/recording/marriage-licenses

    Those are the first 3 cities looked at going around the country counter clockwise. All of them pretty similar, with similar forms of payment. All of them have a downloadable form (which is the original complaint that i have no idea why isnt available). More?........

    Chicago makes you come in and get the form, and doesnt mention a fee.

    Atlanta same as the others, no checks and like Boston and Chicago you have to come in and get the form.

    Denver seems to be the most effecient, but you need to create an account but can pay by check.

    San Franciso, no checks and you need to make an appointment to come in and fill out the paperwork, nothing online.

    Now do any of these cities make you wait in other lines to pick up forms? I have no idea. But it is pretty clear that probably most of the country doesn't accept personal checks for these fees, but lets just blame Boston for being behind the times.

    Multco isn't Portland

    Multco is Multnomah County.

    Go through the county (Multnomah County) and you get the surcharge because you get your copy immediately, so they need a different level of credit card verification. That's why you get hit with a convenience fee. When I needed an immediate certified copy of my mother's and father's death certificates, I walked in to the county offices, paid the surcharge, and walked out with them.

    HOWEVER, the state is the primary registrar for vital records in Oregon. Portland isn't a city fifedom like Massachusetts cities and towns are (it is also in 3 counties). I've gotten copies of my Multnomah County marriage license from the State of Oregon (and my Josephine County birth certificate, too), and they take credit cards without a surcharge (for the 25 years that I have held a passport, anyway) and send it to you for a flat fee.

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    Ok Swirrly.

    But it loos like the payment process is similar to that in Boston right? And if you lived in Portland, the Multnomah County office is where you would need to go to verify your ID and pay the fee (no check).

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    Not sure now

    When I got that license in 1990, I showed up with ID and paid by credit card.

    I suspect that they went to cash after the banks jacked the fees, but I'd have to ask my aunt who works in the county office.

    It's really simple

    Some people encounter a process, and immediately start thinking about ways it could be improved.

    Others encounter a process and immediately start coming up with justifications for it being the way it is, or come up with "other places do it worse" lines of argument.

    Which side of that fundamental divide do you want to be on?

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    Bob I'm on your side.

    I like efficient government too. But don't you think that if (what appears to be most of the country) only accepts certain forms of payment, that there is a reason for it, and maybe that reason is that it is actually more efficient not to take checks?

    This isn't a "others do it worse" situation. This is a "everyone does it that way" situation.

    Let me ask you this. Let's say the Boston office says they will now accept checks and put the form online. But this change will cost about (insert $ cost here) per year in bank fees, or lost revenue for bounced checks. At what point does it make it worth it?

    and while we're complaining about government,

    Charlie Baker might actually have a chance if he can do something about the blood sucking leeches at the RMV. The place is a cash cow for the Commonwealth yet they have unchecked power to revoke your license without a hearing, judicial or otherwise. "Driving in MA is a privilege, not a right", they say. Instead of due diligence on renewals, they use bogus info on warrants from out of state. I have the misfortune of having a fairly common Anglo-Saxon name. In this country of >300,000,000, there are dozens of people with the same name. One of them is a guy with a nationwide history of blowing off court dates for moving violations in about a dozen states. On FIVE separate renewal cycles, they tried to non renew me claiming that I was that guy. (Never got so much as a parking ticket).I was not entitled to a hearing in Boston or a court date. I had to spend literally days dealing with county sheriffs all over America to prove that MA had the wrong guy and to get them to pretty please write a letter to the Registrar saying as much. Guilty until proven innocent. It took an afternoon off and a meeting with my state rep to solve it the last time and HE was afraid of the registry. This is insane.

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    I see an opposite problem

    Driving shouldn't be cheap and it isn't cheap.

    Those fees to the RMV don't even begin to cover the subsidy on driving from the general fund.

    Also, the real travesty with the RMV is that they don't do nearly enough to test people to begin with (lacks comprehensive examination across all key driving competencies), and they never retest, either. This means we have and will have an increasing number of medically unfit drivers plowing into stuff as our population ages.

    I think they should up the fees, and make people sit a simulator test every five years while they wait their turn for a license. Rules retest, too. Fail simulator? Show evidence of a doctor's exam and pass a comprehensive skills evaluation retest.

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    Once again, there's a key distinction

    between, on the one hand, making a driver's license hard to get because there are strict qualifications and testing requirements, and, on the other, making a driver's license hard to get because the registry is understaffed, open inconvenient hours, and the staff's training and reward system is not focused 100% on customer service.

    RMV is very much improved

    Don't know if you had to deal with it 30 years ago, but, oy ... cattle lines, no information available that you didn't have to wait in line for, etc. Now you can get information and most of the forms on the web.

    You can also take a number and sit down, not to mention use the awesome "how long is the line" query through the web before you even leave home.

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    It's up and down

    It got a lot better -- hugely better -- when "Mr. Fixit" Dan Grabauskas was running it, even to the point of adopting a real customer focused attitude.

    It's sliding again now that he's gone. Last time I was in there, I saw them deliberately gaming the system that tracks the length of the line. Let's say you get number 400 at 1:15 PM. At 1:30 PM they call numbers 375 through 400 to go stand in another line. At that point the system thinks you've been served and logs the wait time as 15 minutes. But it's actually 3:45 by the time you get to the head of this second, unofficial line, meaning that the actual wait time, which was not captured by any of the monitoring systems, was twice what the system reports.

    I think the level of pettiness and cynicism on display in that particular practice is just mind-boggling.

    And here is a good argument for online forms

    By on

    The RMV is infinitely easier when you print out the forms yourself and bring them in already filled. In fact, the first line of the RMV is to see what you are there for and to give you the appropriate form. Sounds a lot like the marriage license process...

    And, both the RMV and marriage license require that an employee review the information that you have given them along with proof of identity and that can take a while, depending. The only difference I see is that the RMV has me in their system and can look me up pretty easily to compare what I have written down with what their system tells me.

    All Massachusetts road

    By on

    All Massachusetts road designers should have to be retested every five years, as should all traffic control devices.

    We need to put a stop to rebuilt roads with brand new signs used incorrectly, and trafflic lights with 7-second yellows on 30 mph streets, and lights that are red and green at the same time by design.

    And they are closed on day!

    By on

    I remember thinking this when I got married. Super inefficient. The lady who helped us was very nice, we chatted to an elderly engaged couple in line, but still totally inefficient.
    There may actually be THREE lines
    - to get a form
    - to pay around the corner at a different window
    - to return to the first window with your slip.
    Or perhaps I am confusing the pick up process...

    I remember I took a photo of the *helpful* checklist sign because it was so involved.

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    Records Management

    By on

    Records Management needs improvement at Offices of Boston City Clerk and Assistant City Clerk.

    No

    By on

    Just no.

    Adam noted hours ago that the City Clerk has nothing to do with this.

    By the way, do you need a ride to Debra Sarno's wake?