I'm coming up on two dates that fill most people with anxiety and dread — my thirtieth birthday and the expiration of my driver's license.
One of those, I'll just grin and bear. The other was a surprisingly easy and stress-free experience.
I officially changed my state residency from New Jersey to New York when I turned 25, so I was already in the New York State Department of Motor Vehicle's online system and fortunately, I met the eligibility requirements to renew online, saving me a trip to the local DMV office.
Anyone with a New York State license can renew online within two years of their previous license expiration, unless they want a new photo, have a suspended license, or fall into a few other restricted categories.
For me, the only hitch was an eye test — I've worn glasses since fifth grade, and needed to provide an updated vision test to the DMV. But even that was a breeze.
The DMV offers a list of vision test locations, so I booked an appointment with an ophthalmologist near my office and watched as she logged into the DMV website immediately after completing my eye exam and submitted my results. There was no paper work, and no additional vision test fee (other than the co-pay for my annual eye exam).
By the time I logged onto the DMV's website a few hours later, my eye test had been uploaded and I just needed to answer a few questions about my health and current address before paying the $80.50 fee and hitting "complete."
Seven business days later, I had a new driver's license in my hand.
In New York, at least, the DMV — long a punch line — seems to have gotten its act together when it comes to customer service, and has entered the digital era. The state unveiled a revamped website in February 2014, allowing residents to renew licenses and vehicle registrations online, and to make reservations to skip the lines at their local DMV offices.
According to the DMV, average wait-times at its locations around the state were down to 30 minutes, a 58% decrease from before the website and appointment service launched.
Perhaps the strongest sign that that the once-dreaded DMV has turned a corner are the Yelp reviews. Here are just a few recent ones from offices around the city:
"believe I just broke a world record for the fastest nicest DMV experience ever. MAKE A RESERVATION ONLINE. I had spent the whole weekend sulking about my lost license plate and with extra monday morning blues to think i'd be spending half my work day in purgatory to return the remaining plate and get a whole new registration. But NO! Instead I am amazed with how painless this was." — Chelsea D. at the Midtown West DMV
"'yay i'm a fan' -- I can't believe that my four star review yields that response to a DMV. But it's true. How can it be true you ask? Here is how. Appointment. Make an appointment. If you do, you wont wait but a little while. How long you ask? I waited a grant total of 4 minutes." — Evan H. at the East Harlem DMV
"I am AMAZED at how wonderful and efficient this place is. I made a reservation on the day of for 1pm to replace my license. Walked in at 12:45 and was greeted with a smile. My number was called at 1:02 and I walked out of there at 1:09. I never thought I would ever be able to say how wonderful it was to go to the DMV in NYC. Great customer service and very efficient!!!" — Farzin H. at the Financial District DMV
A representative for the department said that in addition to the Yelp reviews, the DMV had also seen an increase in feedback on social media, specifically Facebook and Twitter.
When I tweeted about my experience the morning after receiving my license, I almost immediately received a response:
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