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Queues waste time and money

Jun 08 2015 06:14
*Mandi Smallhorne

QUEUES… what a plague they are. Hate ‘em. And that got me into a pickle recently. I went to our local testing station to get a picture done for a visa application (Schengen, you know? A nightmare of a different kind), and was approached by a man who wanted to know if I was there to renew my driver’s licence.

Well, as it happened this was on my long and flustering list of Things To Do before flying overseas, so when he said he could arrange to get it done quickly, no problem, just give me the pictures and the money and… yes, I know.

I sat in the police station later muttering about all the kinds of fool I am, and the officer taking my statement laughed and said three other people that day had been taken for fools too. (But the laugh’s on the thief, now; he’s been caught, and I’ve ID’d him. So it was a good thing that I reported this little crime. And well done to the detectives at Florida.)

So last Friday I found myself marching right back in to the testing station. Last time I was there, five years ago, following a bag snatch, you filled in your green form and stood in the queue for hours, shuffling one pace forward every ten minutes or so. (Bitterly cold it was, too, unlike this year’s unseasonal summer-in-May.) After about two hours I called my husband and got him to bring the camping stool down to the station.

So I was relieved to find that things had changed – a little. First, you queue to get your green form (this happens quickly) which is marked with a large number – 25, in my case. Then you can sit on the benches they’ve now provided (which you soon discover have just the right kind of gap between planks to ensure that your bum feels bruised, but you can’t abandon your place because someone will take it very quickly if you do).

You don’t have to sit in any particular order – in fact, you could sun yourself on the grass if you wanted, but you run the risk of not hearing the voice at the door calling your number, and if you do, you have to get a new number.

Small mysteries of bureaucracy

It took a total of about two-and-a-half hours before my number came up – and then I discovered why it takes so long for such a simple process: the equipment doesn’t work properly. They had to take my thumbprints four times and do three photographs of me, all of which wastes time.

Two questions, though: they only used one of the four black and white photos I was told to bring, and a second went onto the temporary licence I asked for. So why do we have to bring four? The small mysteries of bureaucracy. Then, why do the staff have to be so unpleasant? At the Roodepoort Licence Department, where I pay for my car licence, things have changed – they actually treat you like a person, offer a smile, try to be helpful and a bit proactive, and the queues move fast.

Still, no matter how surly the staff and hard the seats, the camaraderie that develops among the queuing souls made queuing for my driver’s renewal a reasonably pleasant experience… okay, not pleasant, but not the sheer hell it was last time.

In a primitive way, they’ve adopted the same queuing system as Nedbank: give people a number and let them sit and wait instead of standing in a queue. I asked Nedbank to give me the rationale behind their adoption of this system, but got no response.

I’ve since spoken to 12 fellow queuers, on separate occasions, and have not received one single positive response to my question: “How do you feel about this new method of queuing?” The least negative was a shrug and “Whatever. It is what it is.”

Suits the staff rather than the customers

Everyone seems to feel that the system is designed to suit the staff rather than the customers. There’s a perception that not having a sighing, rustling, shifting queue staring at you enables the staff to work more slowly, take breaks and feel free to chat more.

These are the things people have said to me; personally, I’d gladly put up with sitting on the green sofas and waiting for my number if I wasn’t forced into listening to an endless loop of Nedbank corporate ads and social responsibility boasts. It’s a kind of torture; I’m sure the CIA could put Eugene to good use…

Honestly, the only good queue is the one that moves so fast I’m at the head before I’ve had time to shuffle my papers. But since businesses and organisations seem unwilling to put sufficient staff on duty for that, I don’t know how it can be achieved.

They’re a tremendous waste of productive time (every one with me in the licence renewal queue had taken off the day to be there) and I’d love to hear any bright ideas to move from queue to through at super speeds.

*Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on twitter.

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