Image via Wikipedia"Hello, RTA."
"Hi. I need to renew my driving license. What documents will you require?"
"You can go to the nearest centre, yours is at Co-Op opposite Safa Park, Sir. You'll need the old license, a passport copy, Dhs 100 fees and an eye test. For the eye test, you need to visit an optician and you will require your passport and a photograph of yourself."
"And that's it?"
How much has changed around here? When I originally got the license (way back when, you don't need to know, right?) it had taken a major internationally co-ordinated effort, the resources of three small Latin American countries and the best part of a whole morning hanging around in hopeless queues, processing paperwork and being videoed in large empty rooms filled with smiling policemen - and that was with the efforts of my powerful sponsor's mandoub.
So off I toddled. I got the eye test from a wiry thin Syrian optician whose hacking cough shook his gaunt frame every two seconds.
"Cover your eye. Read the letters."
"E O N F V W"
"Okay, now cover other eye. Read letters."
(puzzled) "Errm. E O N F V W"
Okay. You pass. Dhs 25.
I went upstairs to the RTA centre and proudly handed over my old license, my passport copy, my eye test (with stamped photo stapled to it to prove I wasn't using Gary Gilmore's eyes) and my Dhs 100.
The nice girl tapped on a keyboard and then smiled pityingly at me.
"You must pay twifty-ten Dirhams."
"Yes," she smiled beatifically. "Your traffic fines. Of course you must pay these."
Of course. All the documents I'd need except one omitted vital element. Luckily, the Co-Op is festooned in ATM's, so one cash scoop and about ten minutes later, I was photographed and in possession of my new license - but short twifty-ten Dirhams.
Now Gulf News tells us that the RTA is to introduce an online renewal service. All you have to do is get the eye-test and apply online by attaching a photo and the fee. The optician can send your eye test direct to the RTA, apparently. And your license gets posted to you in four days.
How will they match the applications with the eye tests without losing them or breaking them? How will they handle the payment of fines given they have no e-payment portal worth a hoot? How will they handle licenses 'lost in the post'? We have yet to find out.
But to be honest, given that the Salik portal still couldn't process online payments by Visa last time I tried (and screwed up the time before that), I'd actually rather go the Co-Op route and get a license in my hands in ten minutes more than it takes to go anyway for the eye test - and get a lovely smile into the bargain.
Funny, isn't it, that the 'old fashioned' physical process is not only safer and more reliable than the online one but also faster. Rather turns one's preconceptions about the transactional Internet on their head...