Suggested RMV regionalization plan would close Easthampton branch
Maria Gardner, of Springfield, a supervisor at the Easthampton RMV, helps John Chereski register a trailer in December 2008. CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »
Left, State Represenative John Scibak, and Senator Michael Knapik talk with Rachel Kaprielian, the Registrar of Motor Vehicles, at the Easthampton Registry of Motor Vehicles in July 2008. CAROL LOLLIS
Purchase photo reprints »
This image from MassDOT's "Modernizing the Registry of Motor Vehicles" report shows the distance people would have to travel to the 16 RMV locations that would exist under the conceptual plan. There are currently 30 RMV branches across the state. Purchase photo reprints »
EASTHAMPTON — A proposal to modernize the state’s Registry of Motor Vehicles suggests consolidating 30 branch offices into 16 — with the Easthampton bureau on the conceptual chopping block.
Sara Lavoie, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, said the idea is just a suggestion that Registrar of Motor Vehicles Rachel Kaprielian presented to the department’s board of directors July 17.
“It’s a concept. It’s not a plan, it’s not a proposal, nothing is closing tomorrow. It’s still a vision,” she said.
But she noted that the board was “receptive” to Kaprielian’s ideas.
Easthampton Mayor Michael A. Tautznik isn’t pleased with the possibility, calling it a “lousy idea” and one that will certainly affect people in western Massachusetts more than those east of Worcester.
“This office already is sort of regional,” he said, noting that the closest other branch is 10 miles south in Chicopee. “It definitely brings people into the community.”
“It’s very busy and it has very low overhead,” he said, noting the Eastworks Building leases it space for $1.
“It’s just bad for business for them to make it difficult for people to use them,” he said of the proposal. “If everything was available online, that’d be different, but there are a lot of reasons you have to go to an RMV branch.”
Lavoie said Kaprielian’s presentation “talked about the future and how we can better serve our customers through technology, third-party partnerships and moving toward a branch regionalization model.”
The “vision” involves closing all but four of 30 branches around the state. Offices in Greenfield, Boston, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard would remain open.
In place of the 24 closed branches, 12 regional centers will be created to serve those customers. In the western part of the state, their suggested locations are Springfield and Pittsfield.
Lavoie said the sites for the regional centers are easily accessible by various forms of transportation and in some cases are also communities that could use the “economic boost” from incoming customers. Most residents would be within 20 miles of an RMV center, according to the “Modernizing the Registry of Motor Vehicles” document MassDOT released after the presentation.
The regional centers would be built to handle between 200,000 and 400,000 customers annually, and could move into large spaces such as mill buildings or vacant big box stores. Staff from existing branches would be offered positions at nearby regional centers, including Easthampton’s seven employees who would likely be channeled to the Springfield location.
The regionalization model has a goal of reducing customer wait times, which the document states have increased in recent years, especially at larger branches in the eastern part of the state.
Easthampton’s office is on the smaller side compared to others statewide, serving between 50,000 and 100,000 annually. Wait times there averaged 28 minutes and 45 seconds in June, Lavoie said. Statewide, most customers wait less than 30 minutes, but the chance of wait time of over 30 minutes is much better at a larger, more urban location.
The RMV aims for wait times of 15 minutes, and the report says regionalizing branches will help it reach that goal.
But Sherry Nichols, owner of Nichols Driving School a few doors down from the RMV in the Eastworks Building, doesn’t buy the idea that regionalizing would reduce wait times. “I can’t even imagine what it would be like,” she said.
She said she doesn’t get many customers from her proximity to the RMV, so she doesn’t think it would hurt her business if it closed.
“I think it’s going to be really inconvenient for people,” she said. “You can do a lot online, but there are still hundreds of people that go there every day. It would be extremely inconvenient for them to gave to drive to Greenfield or Springfield.”
Lavoie said the RMV is also considering another way to decrease wait times: encouraging people to do their RMV business online. “There are 30 transactions you can do online,” she said. A new website, scheduled to be unveiled Dec. 7, is designed to be more user friendly and could draw more business online.
Since transactions can be done online, some in-person transactions could be “phased out” to reduce wait times. For instance, the report said, over 400,000 people renewed their registrations in 2011 in branches when they could have done it online, by mail or by phone.
Sending customers to third-party partners to do RMV business could also mean less waiting around for your number to be called, Lavoie said. Six AAA auto club locations in the state already offer some services, she said, and the RMV could look at partnering with some car dealerships or insurance companies or putting RMV kiosks, like those that exist in Nevada or Mississippi, in big box stores.
Channeling more RMV business through the website and to third-party businesses could reduce wait times, the document states, but it may also mean that staff could be reduced in the future.
The concept as Kaprielian presented it, however, does not call for any staff reductions. In fact, the RMV believes a total of 370 branch workers is needed for the RMV to achieve 15-minute wait times, the document states, which is 10 more than the 360 currently working in branches. Easthampton’s seven branch employees would join with 27 from the Chicopee and Springfield branches to staff the Springfield regional office under the plan.
Lavoie said the RMV will not make any decision soon. “There will be much more analysis in the future,” she said. “Any closures would be years away, if the RMV does go in this direction.”
Rebecca Everett can be reached at email@example.com.