2011 was perhaps the greatest year of change in the history of Burning Man’s Department of Mutant Vehicles. In 2011, we implemented a brand new database and significantly changed our on playa licensing process. Either of these changes during a single year would have been a major step forward, but to implement both of them in the same year was a quantum leap. Although the numbers of registrations were similar to 2010, the amount of time required to process the vehicles on playa was tremendously decreased. The only downside to improving our efficiency was the loss of some of the party atmosphere of the Mutant Vehicles (and their owners) waiting to be licensed. The vehicles were in and out so quickly that they barely got a chance to socialize as they had in the past!
The first major change for this year was the implementation of the new DMV database. In mid-2010, the Burning Man Tech Team began a project with the DMV to develop a completely new database for registration and tracking of the vehicles licensed to drive during the event. A sub-committee of the DMV Council, in concert with the Burning Man Tech Team Project Manager, developed the specifications and workflow for the new database, and a contractor was hired to do the programming. The first phase of the database was rolled out prior to the opening of registration for 2011. Another phase was implemented in the spring, that allowed the DMV to process all the applications, and automated a lot of the work of issuing invitations to mutant vehicle owners and disabled applicants. The final phase was the implementation of the portions of the database necessary to license vehicles on the playa.
After the 2010 event, a sub-committee of the DMV Council evaluated how we might streamline our on-playa process flow. During the busiest days of the 2010 event, our customers had to endure lengthy wait times. The committee looked very carefully at some of the bottlenecks that we had encountered, and decided to eliminate a lot of the trips that the hotties had to make between the vehicles and the office area by creating two queues, so that the vehicles would come to the hotties, rather than the hotties going to the vehicles. This also created a “first in, first out” scenario, which enabled the vehicle owners the ability to see exactly how many vehicles were in front of them at any given time. It also reduced the amount of time that hotties had to spend looking for vehicle owners, as they never had to leave their vehicle. To create the two queues, the licensing of vehicles was moved off the Esplanade onto the playa between the Man and Center Camp.
Another improvement was the use of triplicate carbonless forms in licensing the mutant vehicles. These forms drastically reduced the amount of time that was spent looking for the forms for vehicles that had received day licenses and were coming back for night. Each portion of the form was designed for single use, and was filed as soon as it was completed.
The biggest time-saver, however, was the use of iPads and the new database optimized for the iPad. This significantly streamlined our processes of taking pictures and adding them to the database, and in decreasing the steps to license and record vehicles in the database.
Another change that was implemented in 2011, to great acclaim, was the use of window flags for disabled applicant vehicles, particularly by participants who were licensed to drive their regular street vehicles. The DMV had heard some complaints by some of the disabled applicants that they were often stopped by Black Rock Rangers or law enforcement officers, despite having a valid DMV disabled license. This year, disabled participants were offered the option of a small flag which fits onto the window frame of the vehicle. Many of the participants opted to take one, and the feedback from participants, Rangers and law enforcement was positive.
Our dedicated volunteer crew works hard during the pre-event application processing phase as well as on playa. We had felt that our numbers were stretched thin on the playa in 2010, but with the changes to our processing system, and some restructuring of our scheduling, we were able to comfortably staff our needs for the event in 2011. As we expect some stability in our process for the next couple of years, we hope to work on refining the training that we offer our volunteers.
Complaints about mutant vehicles with very large sound systems have been a growing problem for several years. The DMV is looking to take further steps to address this for 2012 and beyond.