The End of the Line for DMVs?

Virtual queue system lets customers use mobile phone numbers to hold their positions in line, receive text message alerts when it's their turn.

by / April 26, 2010

At Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMV)s across the country, the days of waiting in line may be numbered.

That's the goal of an innovative queue system that virtually eliminates the need for customers to physically stand in line. The virtual line management system, called QLess, lets users input a mobile phone number to hold their place in line and notifies them about wait times, which frees users up to run errands, grab a cup of coffee, etc. Users will receive text message alerts to let them know when it's their turn.

It works similar to the paging devices given out at some restaurants, except customers can use their cell phones and don't need to stay onsite. According to the QLess website, the system has given back customers more than eight years of time standing in line. The system has already been integrated in places such as restaurants, but the public sector is catching on, said Jon Burke, director of marketing and sales for QLess.

This year, QLess was integrated in two independently operated DMV offices in Missouri. Cyril Wrabec, whose company won the award to take over the Independence, Mo., office in December, included the QLess system in his bid, which he said helped the bid stand out. Even though it's still in the early stages and most people don't know the system exists, he said, the advantages are numerous. He can generate reports to target historical peak traffic periods, and adjust staffing patterns accordingly and use the data to see which clerks are the slowest and the fastest, among other things.

The basic QLess package costs $1,000 for the setup per location, and 20 cents per person in line, depending on the volume, Burke said. But as far as the customers are concerned, Wrabec said, the benefit of avoiding the long lines at the DMV is worth the price of implementation.

"If we could get all the major offices in the state to use the system," he said, "we could completely change the public's perception of the DMV."

No More Traffic Jams

At the DMVs in Johnson County, Kan., customers would wait for up to two and a half hours to register a plate or get an updated decal. And the waiting conditions weren't pretty.

"We wouldn't have enough lobby or chair space, so they ended up sitting on the floor or standing outside," said Amy Meeker-Berg, the county's chief deputy treasurer. "For everybody to be captive and just sit there and wait, it's hard for people -- especially in this environment -- when you have the ability to be more flexible with your schedule."

The county's treasurer's office processes about 118,000 titles and 439,000 renewals each year. On peak days, it can serve over 4,800 customers. But the old manual ticketing system couldn't handle those numbers. It's been in place since 2002, she said, but the system couldn't even produce statistics to estimate volumes at peak times.

In searching for a paging system to alleviate the congestion, the treasurer's office stumbled upon QLess. Since last July, the county has launched the online reservation application, the mobile phone system and the walk-in touchscreen monitors. The treasurer's office has seen more than 2,200 online reservations and 5,700 hits since the new site went live in October, and 22 percent of customers utilize the text messaging feature.

Patiently Waiting

Customers who don't have cell phones can still use on-site kiosks, Burke said, and if customers miss their turns, a simple notification can buy them an extra 15 or more minutes.

"Say you're stuck in traffic and it's your turn, and you're 15 minutes away," Burke said. "You can elect to have more time. It's all customizable."

Other places have been adopting the system to boost efficiency, such as Austin's Town Lake Animal

Center, which provides shelter to more than 23,000 animals each year and animal control services to all of Austin and Travis County, Texas. "We'll call you when it's your turn," notes the city's website.

Although a massive rollout of such a system may be a long ways out, it never hurts to imagine the possibilities of virtual line management becoming widespread, especially in other industries known for congestion.

"Imagine how a system like this one could help some practices compete with retail health clinics that enable patients to shop while they wait to be seen," wrote Leigh Ann Backer on the Family Practice Management blog at the American Academy of Family Physicians website. "Imagine being able to offer patients an alternative to rubbing elbows with sick patients in your potentially crowded waiting room -- one that would allow them to use their waiting time more productively."


Russell Nichols Staff Writer