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Editorial: RMV continues needed push to modernize

CAROL LOLLIS
Maria Gardner, of Springfield, a supervisor at the Easthampton RMV, helps John Chereski register a trailer Wednesday afternoon.

CAROL LOLLIS Maria Gardner, of Springfield, a supervisor at the Easthampton RMV, helps John Chereski register a trailer Wednesday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »

The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles sees a future with more online transactions and fewer offices for walk-in customers. While more details are needed, the plan deserves a fair examination.

It may contain more good news than bad for Massachusetts drivers, especially if service improves and costs go down. And yet any suggested change in services by a government agency can rile taxpayers — and the RMV announcement drew a predictable outcry.

The proposals came in a report, “Modernizing the Registry of Motor Vehicles,” presented July 17 to the state Department of Transportation by Registrar Rachel Kaprielian. Since her appointment by Gov. Patrick in 2008, Kaprielian has moved to expand the RMV’s online program and speed up and improve service at branches.

The Registry experience today is a far cry from the lines and attitudes that once terrorized Massachusetts drivers.

Sara Lavoie, a spokeswoman for the DOT, told the Gazette Kaprielian wants to continue to “better serve our customers through technology, third-party partnerships and moving toward a branch regionalization model.”

Thirty branch offices would be reduced to 16. In western Massachusetts, branches in Easthampton, Chicopee and North Adams would close. Greenfield would stay and the branches in Springfield and Pittsfield would move into bigger quarters. Lavoie said the sites for the regional centers would be easily accessible by various forms of transportation and have access to high-speed fiber communications lines. Kaprielian says she would not reduce the number of RMV employees, but transfer staff to the new offices to reduce wait times, which have increased, especially at eastern branches.

Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett wrote that Easthampton’s office, smaller than others, serves between 50,000 and 100,000 people annually, with wait times averaging 28 minutes and 45 seconds in June. Statewide, most customers wait less than 30 minutes, but longer waits occur at larger, urban branches. There are not many transactions with the RMV that cannot be done online, but those that do require in-person visits are critical: Getting learner’s permits, a driver’s license, eye exams, converting an out-of-state license, taking the road test (something also required of every foreign student, regardless of their driving history) and license plate transactions.

If Valley residents must drive further to an RMV office, the wait time must be reduced significantly when they get there.

If that’s the promise, the Registry will need to deliver.

We are in favor of expansion of online services, but mindful that not everyone has a computer. One idea is to locate online kiosks in malls or other government buildings where people can do business electronically with the registry. That’s worthwhile if the costs are not excessive, which often happens with state contracts. Some Registry services are available at certain AAA offices.

The report notes that branch locations give host communities an “economic boost” by bringing customers, an argument made by Easthampton Mayor Michael A. Tautznik for keeping the RMV branch in the Eastworks building. The RMV needs to weigh the economic impact of branch offices, but that should be a secondary benefit.

The Registry’s key for the future is to better promote and market online services and make them as easy as possible for customers. Now, 30 transactions can be done online, including registration renewal. Despite this, 400,000 people renewed their registrations at branches in 2011 when they could have done it online, by mail or by phone. A new, easier-to-use website is coming in December.

On its trial run, the RMV’s projections took a lot of fire. People do not want to see RMV services decline. That is feedback the department must incorporate into its planning.

"The Registry experience today is a far cry from the lines and attitudes that once terrorized Massachusetts drivers." Oh my God, I didn't believe that even the Gazette would say that. But it was true though. Registry service was truly horrible however. Which was basically what brought the old registry to its downfall. That and declining tax dollars. It made me question the psychological make up of those who applied for jobs at the offices. I figured they had some kind of perverted interest in holding authority over unsuspecting motorists. And on the subject of tax money, it's odd how people complain loudly when state funds are cut, yet also complain if the tax rate is raised a single quarter percent. Like the federal government, state tax should be raised quite a bit, and also be a progressive tax. Money should then go to communities whose school systems have fallen far behind and decrease the horrible financial discrepancy between communities. Supporting education with only property taxes is regressive and one of the biggest embarrassments in this country.

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