Now it’s the Lillington Division of Motor Vehicles office’s turn to play “blame the customer.”
Last year the N.C. Turnpike Authority blamed drivers who had been double-billed for Triangle Expressway trips because they carried two flavors of toll-road transponders in their cars. This was the Turnpike Authority’s fault, and Transportation Secretary Tony Tata took quick action to fix the problem.
And since then, Department of Transportation leaders have been working on several fronts to improve service at local DMV offices – with weekend and evening hours at some locations, improved technology and a genuine urge to treat folks better and faster. That’s good, as far as it goes.
But the DMV office in Lillington didn’t get the memo.
Bruce Skubon, 56, who lives near Fuquay-Varina (“FUQUARY VARINA,” according to his license), walked in the other day and pulled out his cracked, peeling, faded and Scotch-taped driver’s license.
He mentioned a recent Road Worrier column that quoted DMV spokeswoman Marge Howell as saying that DMV replaces broken licenses free of charge.
So he asked for his free replacement. No dice. The DMV license examiner insisted that he must pay a $10 fee.
“She held my license in her hand,” Skubon told me. “She said, ‘Are you willing to pay the $10?’ And I said ‘No.’...
“I explained that according to your article it should be free. The lady at the counter said she never heard of such a thing, nor had she heard of you.
“How do I convince her that you are real and the replacement card should be free? She said that it was my fault for the way I have my license in my wallet.”
This is an outrage – and not just because the DMV examiner has never heard of the Road Worrier. It’s ridiculous for a state employee to blame a driver for the brittle license that broke apart in his wallet, and to gouge him for a $10 replacement.
Marge Howell looked into this and offered DMV’s explanation: It was a misunderstanding – and she said Skubon was partly to blame.
“It sounds like our driver’s license examiner and our customer were kind of talking around each other and maybe not doing a whole lot of listening,” Howell told me.
The Lillington DMV examiner says Skubon told her there was a new law that provides free driver’s licenses, Howell explained. She thought he was referring mistakenly to a law about free voter ID cards.
“She knows about the (free replacement) policy, but she totally misunderstood what he was trying to tell her,” Howell said.
(Howell added a modest qualification: Licenses damaged in normal wear and tear will be replaced for free. But if you drive a snowmobile over your license or mangle it with a blowtorch, you’ll have to pay the $10 fee.)
But the DMV alibi rings hollow – and not just because Howell blames Skubon as a poor listener.
Even if there was possibly a confused reference to some new law, they clearly were talking about his ruined license and why it was broken. He photographed it and emailed me a copy.
“My current license started cracking shortly after I got it,” Skubon said. “As you can tell by the picture, I have taped it in places to try to keep it together. The lady at the office kept saying it cracked because of the way I kept it in my wallet. Funny how nothing else in my wallet cracked.
It would be nice to think this is an isolated blunder on the part of a single DMV worker. But if you check out the online comments with an earlier version of this post, you’ll see that other DMV offices also are sticking drivers for $10 to replace defective licenses.
Howell invited Skubon to return to the Lillington DMV office to arrange for his free replacement. He said he plans to do that – but he hopes they won’t keep him waiting 45 minutes again this time.
Maybe DMV can fix its spelling of FUQUAY, too.
And now, perhaps, the Lillington license examiner will be convinced: The Road Worrier is real.