Tuesday, 9 March 2010

When bad service is a real eye-popper

My driver’s licence comes up for renewal next month, so off I went to the Malmesbury Traffic Department to timeously do my citizenly duty (unlike, say, Julius Malema).

First, I had two driver’s licence photos taken, then I drove to the traffic department, where I secured the necessary form and filled it in, then I settled in for the wait in the eye-testing room, along with about 10 other people. Malmesbury has only one eye-testing machine and its operator has a personality disorder common to many ‘service providers’ who ply their trade in this medium-sized Swartland town –it’s called Can’t Do.

So my eyes didn’t pop out in surprise when, after 40 minutes of waiting, I finally took my place in the eye-testing chair and the operator, without so much as a glance at me, asked me for my old licence (‘Old licence,’ she snapped), took a quick shuftie at it, and tossed it back across the table at me. ‘Can’t do,’ she said.

I exercised what was, I thought, extreme patience. ‘I have here with me my form, filled in and accurate in every detail. I have two licence photographs of myself. I have R100. I have my ID book. What is it about me that makes you unable to process this request?’

‘Glasses,’ she said, disinterestedly looking over my shoulder at her next victim.

‘I don’t wear glasses,’ I said. ‘I had Lasik surgery over 10 years ago.’

‘Restriction on licence,’ she drawled. 'Next!'

I picked up my old licence and studied it. Sure enough, there was the restriction, dating back to when I first got my driver’s licence in 1982: ‘with glasses’.

‘Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that,’ I said. ‘I’ve had this card renewed twice already and both times I just did the eye test. My vision is 20/20.’

‘Can’t do,’ she said. She had not yet actually looked at me at all during this entire exchange.

‘Please look at me,’ I said.

She sighed enormously and dragged her unwilling gaze back from over my shoulder.

‘I’ve had this card renewed twice, here, in this very traffic department,’ I said, slowly and clearly. ‘The glasses restriction no longer applies. All you have to do is give me the eye test, and you’ll see that I have perfect vision.’

She didn’t even bother to pretend to listen. ‘Can’t. Do,’ she said.

‘Then what’s the point of giving this eye test?’ I asked. ‘Surely, if you come for an eye test, it’s to test whether you can see properly. If you give me the eye test, even though I’m not wearing glasses and haven’t for over 10 years, you will immediately notice that I can, in fact, see properly.’

‘Can’t do,’ she said. ‘Next!’

Like speaking to a brick wall.

I went back to the main office, where I queued for about 15 minutes at the Enquiries counter. There, I was told that the previous two renewals of my driver’s licence (for both of which I had the mandatory eye test, and for both of which I scored 100% for vision) were ‘mistakes’ and that I required (wait for it) a letter from my eye surgeon to confirm that I’d had Lasik surgery.

‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ I said. ‘It was over 10 years ago. I don’t even remember who did the surgery.’

The dude shrugged, look over my shoulder and called, ‘Next!’

This simply beggars belief. First, why insist on a mandatory, government-administered eye test if the results don’t hold any water? Second, although I try to be a law-abiding citizen (really, I do), I’ve apparently been driving on an illegal licence for over 10 years. Third, requiring a letter from a surgeon who operated on my eyes over a decade ago is madness of an order I actually am too exhausted to get my mind around. And fourth, WHAT IS WITH THE SERVICE INDUSTRY IN MALMESBURY??

But I’ve decided that two can play at this game. At the suggestion of a slightly less law-abiding friend (whose name shall, for obvious reasons, remain a secret), I’m just going to go to the chemist in the next few days, buy a pair of specs with clear glass in them (you can get them for about 100 bucks), and go and do the mandatory government-administered eye test wearing them. Much easier than trying to track down a surgeon whose name I can’t recall (I had surgery on my eyes, not my memory, for god’s sake).

* A footnote on my myriad visits to the Malmesbury Traffic Department. Over the last two years, my son and my daughter have sat (and failed, both numerous times) their learner’s and driver’s licences. My son failed his learner’s four times and it has now expired, so he has to go and sit it again. My daughter failed her learner’s twice and has failed her driver’s twice, and her next appointment for a test is in April.

Thus far, this is the time and money I have spent at the Malmesbury Traffic Department:
Getting photos: total of about 2½ hours, total of about R200
Securing and filling in forms: total of about 2½ hours
Queuing: total of about 6 hours (no exaggeration)
Costs of licences and appointments: total of about R1 000
Waiting for children to complete tests: total of about 9 hours (again, no exaggeration)

That’s a total, in time, of around 20 hours (almost three full working days) and, in money, of over R1 000.
And what, so far, do I have to show for it? Zip.

Above: Me, in happier times: wearing spectacles and a legally licensed driver.

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MzHartz said...

What if you were wearing contact lenses?

Muriel said...

Quite, MzHartz! Of course, if I'd been prepared for this bureaucratic bullshit, I would just have said I was wearing contact lenses (but, I dunno, maybe they CHECK?). I've since spoken to my optician who cheered me up by finding the whole thing completely hilarious - and added that she's often called on to do 'follow-up' tests on people who've been declared legally blind by the traffic department and refused their licences, but whose eyesight is actually perfect. So there you go - idiocy of all kinds and at all levels of local government.

Claudine said...

Way back in the mists of time when I did my learners, the official asked me to look in the black box and read the numbers. I told him there weren't any. He looked, shuffled a knob on the box and asked me again to read the numbers. Told him again there weren't any that I could see, just a large yellow box. Turned out I did indeed need glasses. (I think the guy thought I was pulling a fast one.)

Last year I stood in line at Centurion's office. The people doing the eye tests didn't speak, did't say a single word to anyone who came through their booths. Arrogant as they come. Service in this country is non existant. And we think we can handle international tourists in their hundreds of thousands in June...