I went downtown yesterday and took the test for my Minnesota driver’s license. The experience was not the trial by fire that it notoriously is in Massachusetts.
Katharyn and I took the bus, which stops a short distance from the house, with the aid of the Transit Tracker app (see sidebar).
The Driver and Vehicle Services office, as it is called here, is located on the first floor of Town square, a commercial, government, and shopping complex in downtown St. Paul. This office presented quite a contrast to the RMVs I experienced in Massachusetts. First of all, it was relatively quiet. It was calm, The employees did not look stressed and each one we dealt with was pleasant and efficient. The floor was carpeted — unlike the hard vinyl found in MA RMVs — and that helped to keep the noise level down. The space was broken up visually into separate areas for license testing vs. other auto- and license-related tasks. Most of the RMVs I have suffered through back East were wide-open bullpens. With televisions blaring.
This office gets only 1.7 stars from 29 Google reviews, but most of them are for the call-in service. Many of the ones I scanned about actual visits to the office were positive, and that was certainly our experience.
Minnesota requires out-of-state drivers seeking a license to take a written test, but not a driving test. When I sought licenses in California and in Massachusetts, I remember being handed a small, cheaply printed, perhaps 20-page booklet to study. You flip through it for two minutes standing up at a counter and then you’re ready. Not so in Minnesota. We read through the driver’s manual that a helpful employee set up for us on a Windows computer (running XP, I believe). I estimate it was over 50 pages and we took a good 45 minutes with it.
The “written” test is administered on touch-screen terminals, with headphones so you can be distracted by a loud voice s-l-o-w-ly reading the questions and answer choices to you while you struggle to ignore it and read them so you can answer and get on to the next one. This process, while inclusive and friendly to those variously impaired, did take some getting used to, and caused me to miss two questions in the early going. Once I figured out how to ignore the voice I didn’t miss any more.
One of the ones I missed, embarrassingly, was the practice question that is supplied to illustrate how the process works before you get into the test proper. The question was: What is the capital of Minnesota? It is St. Paul. I know that now. I probably wouldn’t have missed it had the Capital building not been under renovation such that its gilded dome is, at the moment, not shiny.
Overall a very pleasant experience. We were through in time to use the time-limited transfers the bus driver had given us to get home again. (Another nice thing about the Twin Cities: everywhere else I’ve been, transit transfers are only good for continuing farther in the direction you started.) The contrast with Massachusetts could not be more stark. Last fall I needed to go to the RMV in Lowell and, after sitting for a miserable hour watching all the number queues but mine advance, I sent the following to my Facebook feed: “Memo to self: Never RMV on a Friday afternoon, never, never.”