I embarked on another "typically Trini" adventure on Monday. The goal was to transfer the ownership of our car. For most North Americans, this is a fairly routine process as long as you have the paper work in place.
Honestly, people started telling us stories about the licensing office before we arrived. "Three days off work to get a driving permit...", "standing in the wrong line for 2 hours...", "being in line doesn't seem to matter"... As a result of all this we made a conscious decision to not get driving permits -- all we needed to do was leave the country every three months - easy enough.
I had been through the transfer process once, so I somewhat knew the routine and was feeling confident that I could get this done in one day.
To make the transfer, both the buyer and the seller must be present at the licensing office and all paperwork and signatures must be in place.
I picked up the new owner at 5 am and we made the trip to the office and parked in the line. By my assessment we were second in the line for transfers (there were also many new cars in the line). At about 6:20 (after a 1 hour wait) the gate opened and we scrambled to get the car inside. We had to go around an abandoned vehicle and we were passed, quite artistically, on the way in but we still ended up second in the transfer line (only to begin our next wait). There were three lines -- new cars, trucks and cars. Shortly after 8 the other two lanes began processing vehicles. By now there were over 30 vehicles in our line and the drivers were getting very twitchy -- and getting anxious because the longer the delay was outside, the more delay inside.
As it turns out, the "inspector" for our line hadn't shown up for work. We sat patiently as drivers of trucks wheeled past and 20 or so people with car transfers gathered at the inspection hut to express their frustrations. Finally at 8:50, the car in front started and moved forward. I quickly followed and parked in the inspection bay. The "inspection" amounts to this: open the "bonnet" and lift the flap on the firewall and read the VIN to the inspector. Less than 2 minutes later we were on our way to park so we could wait again.
Next we made a quick run to the insurance office to get a one day insurance for the new driver. Conveniently, there are photo shops, commissioners of oaths, insurance vendors and doctors offices within walking distance of the license office (as well as food vendors and if you look closely some "agents" that will "speed up" your transfer for a fee that I am sure is shared with some people behind the desk.)
We finally made our way inside to wait to be called to the transfer desk. To give you a picture of what is happening, there are multiple lines and waiting areas -- licenses, transfers, ownerships, cashier, information...all in all there were at least 200 people inside (and another 50 outside). Last time it took 3 hours to be called but this time it was only about an hour. We presented our documents and I was chastised for not having my work permit with me. I begged forgiveness and apologized in my best Canadian way -- the clerk had to get special permission but we got through.
The lady said we would be able to pay within an hour. I asked specifically if we needed to get into the rapidly growing cashier line. She said no. We sat down again and waited, thinking we'd be another hour and done.
About 10:15, the next clerk called us up. The transfer had been approved. Now we had to get into the cashier line to pay. WHAT! The line was now snaking around the interior and there was only 1 cashier window open (there is room for 4 cashiers but there are never more than 2) .
Guess what, the cashier closes at noon--FOR THE DAY. There was no way we were going to make it to the front by then. Dammit, I was going to have to come back.
On Wednesday, after dropping Gayle at the airport, I returned to the licensing office. I arrived shortly after 7 and made my way to the front door where others were already waiting for the 8 am opening. I sat and read the paper as more and more people started to arrive. At about 7:45 somebody twitched and the crowd started to move toward the door. I was close to the front and had put up my elbows to block an old lady from passing me.
The door finally opened at 8:05 and the 100 or so people flooded inside to find their proper line. Less experienced people had to change lines a few times. I ended up second in the transfer line, after blocking the same old lady AGAIN! 5 minutes later I had to block her again in the cashier line. By some miracle a second cashier opened and I was out of there by 8:15. I had to swerve to avoid hitting the "old lady" as she walked to her car.
There are so many advanced things in this country, yet licenses and car ownerships are all pen and paper. No computers were visible in the office at all. The cashier only takes cash!
While the vehicle is transferred, the new owner has to return in a few months to buy a new copy of the ownership. None of the last 5 owners have bothered to do this! I am sure that will take a couple of days too.