U-turn at traffic office frustrates

I know someone who has a fantasy that he sees someone from Home Affairs or the licensing department on the side of the road needing help. He stops his car, then walks around nonchalantly, spending a long time talking to someone, anyone, on his cellphone. Still not making eye contact, he will start tidying some papers in his car. Then, turning to the person in need, he will ask for their ID, their proof of address, photos of their parents, in duplicate, a photo of their last three pets … and whatever they offer it will not be enough. Finally, looking at his watch, he will say, “Look at the time! I have to drive off in 15 minutes time so you will have to ask for help another day.”

I was reminded of this recently when I decided to find out what had happened to my driver’s licence renewal. I hadn’t had the promised notification in the post and many months had passed.

“Do you have identification?” the woman behind the counter asked. I showed her my drivers’ licence. It turns out you can’t show your driver’s licence, a document issued through that very department, to fetch your new driver’s licence. Nor is the temporary licence – issued ditto – good enough. Only an ID will do.

Not happy about having to return through the stop-go traffic to fetch my ID, I thought I would find out whether it was worth the return trip. Was my licence ready?

Some looking up on the system and the answer came back: “No. We’ve destroyed it.”

Incredulous, I asked why.

“You didn’t come and fetch it in time.”

But, I protested, I was waiting for the promised postal notification, which hadn’t come.

Sorry, she said, I would have to apply again – that’s R180 and two photos. But it’s your mistake, I protested, the licensing department didn’t send me a notification.

And that’s where the small print comes in. On the back of the temporary licence a notice was stapled, the gist of which was that if you didn’t get notification in the post, you were to phone to check.

So, when I could make the time, I withdrew the required amount of cash (no debit cards accepted), had another set of photos taken (they come in fours but you only need two) and joined the queue – with my ID book this time.

When I got to the front of the queue I was told I needed proof of address. So back home again for round two.

I will not go through the hour and 38 minutes it took to get an eye test and get to the payment counter, except to say many new friends were made and horror stories exchanged of licensing and Home Affairs departments and tips as to which ones were good and best times to go.

Finally, money was handed over, my ID taken to some back room for mysterious goings ons for some minutes – and finally it was done, my new drivers’ licence was one step closer.

Handing me my temporary licence, the clerk said: “You will be notified in the post when your licence is ready.”

I think I’ve heard that before …

* What is the City’s point of view? Who “destroys” the licences, how and why? JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security, responds:

“All applicants renewing their driving licence cards are informed by the cashier about the relevant documents (such as a proof of address) needed when they come to collect their new cards. Applicants are also requested to sign a form confirming the date of the application as well as the fact that they understand the processes in terms of receiving and collecting their driving licence cards.

“We also inform the applicants at the cash office and attach an additional slip to their receipt indicating the time-frame in which they are expected to collect their driving licence card. This slip states that if no notification is received, it is up to the applicant to then call in or visit the centre to enquire if their card has indeed arrived and if it is ready for collection.

“In this case, the applicant received the additional slips informing her to contact the centre should notification not be received after eight weeks from the date of application.

“The applicant applied for the renewal of her driving licence card on 11 August 2015, and the card was destroyed eight months later on 13 April 2016. The applicant contacted the centre 10 months later for the first time to enquire about her card. According to the Road Traffic Act, all testing centres are expected to keep driving licences for up to 120 days after the application. It is at the centre’s discretion to keep the card for longer, as was done in this case.”

Why is there not a routine procedure to phone the people who haven’t fetched their licences? Having gone to all the effort of getting there, paying, queuing, having eye tests, one could assume that they want their licences. Would it not be courteous to check first?

“The City’s drivers licence testing centres do try to call all applicants where possible,” said Mr Smith.

“Every effort is made to contact the driver, and if we are unable to get hold of the driver, the City is compelled to destroy all uncollected driving licences.”

Why can’t these offices accept debit cards or credit cards?

Ian Neilson, mayoral committee member for finance, responds: “The City does not have debit or credit card facilities at any of its offices. Having such facilities would mean that we operate as a card merchant, and we would therefore not be allowed to cost recover credit /debit card charges. The bank costs associated with card payments are huge and unaffordable at present, unless there are additional increases in rates and tariffs.”

He said that residents could pay at third parties such as supermarkets or via EFT for amounts up to R5 000.

“The City, together with all other major municipalities, has approached National Treasury and the South African Local Government Association to allow municipalities to be card merchants, but also have the ability to cost recover credit /debit card charges as municipalities are service delivery-driven and not profit-driven,” he said.