Full throttle

This week I went to the traffic department in Jabriya to renew my driver’s license. As everyone knows, obtaining and renewing a driver’s license in Kuwait has become very difficult and there are a lot of rules that limit who can have a driver’s license now. Expat women who don’t work and are under their sponsorship of their husband can’t have driver’s licenses, for example, a huge problem for moms who need to take their kids back and forth to school.

The limitations are a reaction to the excessive traffic and though I find them harsh and unfair in some cases, I can also empathize with everyone’s desire to reduce the numbers of cars on the road. Spend even 10 minutes in traffic (more like 45 minutes during rush hour on an average day) and you will see only one part of the Interior Ministry’s dilemma.

I was more than a little apprehensive about renewing mine. The queues when I arrived at the traffic department around 4:15pm were already several rows deep, with at least a few hundred people waiting to apply. Some were there to renew but many more were applying for new licenses, the majority it seemed for construction workers, drivers and other blue collar workers.

Thankfully the queue for renewal was relatively short. But even in that time, I could see the pressure the staff at the traffic department were under. From the moment they unlock the doors until they shut down at 8pm, they are slammed with people queuing and waiting to complete their paperwork.

The staff are overwhelmed. They work full throttle for four straight hours. One of the officers told me that just for renewals they handle 200 cases a day. That’s 2.4 cases per minute in an eight hour day. Even if that’s an overstatement you can clearly see from the waiting lines of people it’s not an exaggeration by much.

It’s easy to criticize the government, the Interior Ministry and the employees of the traffic department for all the problems we face on Kuwait’s highways and for the long waits and queues everyone has to suffer. I have seen enough YouTube videos mocking government employees and in many cases these are true.

But I can tell you things are different at the traffic department. Everyone I saw yesterday was doing their job.
Not one of the people I met was rude or ignoring their work to chat on their mobile or scroll through Instagram. In fact, they were all polite – and not just with me but with everyone. They were organized and efficient. Two of the ladies handling the process were taking their tea while typing, and the manager was actually helping them while retrieving licenses printed and ready to hand over.

The truth is that the staff are simply overwhelmed and the system itself is overwhelmed. And I think it’s important to point out the difference and to thank those who are doing their best.
So I want to thank the Interior Ministry and the Traffic Department staff, in particular, for their hard work and for doing their best.

By Jamie Etheridge

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