Time for Service Ontario to live up to the name

Around the Nation

A column by Tom Van Dusen

You’ve all seen the masked, downcast lineups I’m sure, happy that at least for now you haven’t had to join them!

Stretching back along the sides of buildings, 10-12 people long, they’re clients clutching rumpled documents outside in high heat and rain, hoping the door doesn’t get slammed in their faces because reduced time has run out.

Yes, of course, I’m talking about the Service Ontario — Slow Service Ontario would be a better name — outlets in many communities across Eastern Ontario, places like Brockville, Embrun, Morrisburg, Winchester, Prescott and many more where operators are still behaving as if COVID-19 just arrived on the scene when that historic event actually occurred six months ago.

They’re the one-stop shops where we go to renew health cards and drivers’ licences, as well as vehicle registrations, plates and stickers, and various other permits. How much longer will they be using C-19 as an excuse for abysmal service from skeleton staff over minimal opening hours?

There’s really no excuse at this point! If Service Ontario can’t work social distancing into premises now occupied, rent larger offices on an interim basis; put more staff on to handle the load. After all, provincial taxpayers are paying the freight for these places.

Over the past month, I’ve purchased two new-old vehicles, a 2005 PT Cruiser convertible and a 2004 Ford Ranger, and have experienced the pain and frustration of trying to get certifications approved and stickers issued.

The June 3, 2020, lineup at the ServiceOntario Centre in Winchester. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Before I go on, to those muttering that I deserve pain and frustration if I can afford to buy two vehicles at about the same time, I must point out: The cost of both of them, all in, was about one-tenth of what it would cost to buy either a new fully loaded pick-up truck or high-end car.

Most of my attempts were made at the little Service Ontario shop on King Street in Prescott which is only about a block from my house and where one staff keeps the place open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each weekday. One staff for four hours a day!

Because it’s so close, I have observed the endless lineups and tried to time when best to make my move. Early on, after several passes, I waited at least an hour and got plates and temporary sticker for the car. A couple of weeks later, I got in again after about 60 minutes and this time was turned away because one VIN number digit on the safety certificate was wrongly transposed.

Why isn’t the SO clerk authorized to make the fix right on the spot when she can clearly see the problem and save the customer so much time and effort returning to the garage for a rewritten certificate! Just last Friday, I made another attempt for both vehicles. I was fifth in line at the door at 1:55; she took the first four and I was sent packing.

On Monday, I went to the office at 12:05 figuring I’d hit the jackpot because there were only four clients waiting. Then the woman ahead of me said the clerk was taking a half hour break right after processing her. Yes, I understand the solo employee might need a break but put somebody else on the job! With a little rearranging, the office is big enough for two staff and proper distancing!

I went back at 12:55. There were eight people waiting. The clerk was outside having a smoke. She went back in, flipped the sign to open and invited three clients to enter, spraying their hands as they came in. By 1:30, I was inside with a sanitized batch of four, feeling pretty good. When my turn came, the harried clerk was pleasant and helpful in directing me through the process.

Allelulia and praise the Lord! I walked out at 1:48 with completed documents and stickers in hand! There were eight more people waiting, half of whom probably wouldn’t be getting in. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to discourage them any more than they were.

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