DMV says it's making inroads against wait times

A year after emerging from a computer-system overhaul whose aftermath invited comparisons with Obamacare’s problem-plagued rollout, the state Department of Motor Vehicles says it has succeeded in shrinking wait times at its 18 branch locations.

In June, waits averaged an hour, down from 2 hours, 41 minutes last August.

Still, that’s too long, DMV Commissioner Michael Bzdyra said Wednesday during a meeting with The Day’s editorial board.

Bzydra, named in March to head the troubled agency, and Judeen Wrinn, named deputy commissioner, said they’re taking a methodical, data-driven approach to improving customer service, an effort that hinges on persuading customers to transact business online whenever possible.

A survey of 1,200 visitors to DMV branches, 773 of whom responded, found that 35 percent of them could have avoided waiting in line by going online. If they had, wait times could have been cut by 15 to 20 minutes.

Surprisingly, 1 in 5 of the respondents said they like going to the DMV, while nearly as many indicated they didn’t trust the internet, fearing they could be victimized by a security breach, or “had to go to the DMV anyway,” according to William Seymour, a department spokesman.

How, then, does the department change the culture among its customers?

And what can it do about the 65 percent of customers who have to wait in line to conduct transactions that can only be completed in person?

Bzdyra said the department is prepared to advertise its online services, which include registration renewals and license plate orders and cancellations, but needs “to find the right messaging” before investing as much as $150,000 to $200,000 in a statewide campaign.

He said he’s also looking at making more services available online.

For example, boat registrations must be done in person, but “That’s going to change,” he said.

The department is talking to AAA about increasing DMV services at the state’s 16 AAA locations, which now process license renewals and requests for ID cards.

Once the department rolls out a new system for registrations, it hopes to make it available at AAA offices, Bzydra said.

Wrinn, who comes from an operations and customer-service background in the private sector, said she and Bzdyra visited all 18 DMV branches in the spring and returned to 10 of them to follow up.

They viewed 500 individual customer transactions and found that in 35 to 40 percent of them, the customer had come in to the branch with incomplete forms or lacked the necessary materials to complete a transaction.

“One of the highest priorities is to fix the existing system,” Wrinn said.

The new DMV leadership has sought to reorganize DMV employees, who Wrinn described as “battle weary.”

Once they’ve participated in customer-focused training sessions at the DMV’s headquarters in Wethersfield, she sees “hope in their eyes,” she said.

After an $850,000 budget cut, the department, which has avoided layoffs, has a workforce of about 600 full-time employees and 200 part-timers.

The department has reinstated late fees for those who fail to have their vehicle emissions checked on time, a penalty that had been suspended because of problems associated with the new computer system.

Some 11,000 late notices have been issued and 1,400 fees collected, Bzydra said.

He noted that the fines can be paid online.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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