February 18, 2011

MVA looks to technology to streamline services

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By Megan Poinski
Megan@MarylandReporter.com

John Kuo of the Motor Vehicle Administration

Although the Motor Vehicle Administration provides services for millions of Marylanders, MVA Administrator John Kuo said on Thursday that his department’s employees would prefer not to see most of them in person.

It’s nothing personal, Kuo assured the Senate Public Safety, Transportation and Environment Subcommittee at the agency’s fiscal year 2012 budget hearing.

“I’m sure our customers would also prefer not to see us unless they’d like to,” he said.

The MVA, which processes 12 million transactions each year and brings in $1.2 billion annually, has been blazing forward with technological upgrades that put many of its services online. Instead of going to MVA bureau offices, waiting in long lines, and talking with clerks face-to-face, people now have the option of doing most simple renewal transactions through the bureau’s website.

In fact, people who are just getting their vehicle registrations renewed and don’t have any tickets or traffic violations to contend with can no longer go to MVA branch offices and get it done the old fashioned way. In a program launched this year, people with simple renewals must get them done online, by mail or by telephone. People who show up at MVA bureaus will be directed to self-service online kiosks, which can accept cash payments and print out both new registrations and license plate stickers, Kuo said.

This is part of the MVA’s initiative to try to get 40% of its transactions done outside of its bureau offices. Right now, about a third of all MVA transactions are done by alternative methods, Kuo said.

“Right now, 70% of customers use our alternative services,” Kuo said. “We’re targeting the 20% that doesn’t. We always have about 10% that have to walk in.”

There are several other projects in the works for the MVA to meet the the goal of having 40% services off-site . System upgrades are planned so that people can renew their driver’s licenses online. Right now, they can only be renewed in person or by mail. He also hopes to start capturing e-mail addresses, so people can get notices electronically that they need to renew licenses or get emissions testing, instead of through snail mail.

Another project in the works is to replace all of the MVA’s systems with a new enterprise computer network. While all of the MVA’s services are computerized, different functions like vehicle registrations, driver’s licenses and titles are all in their own separate systems. Kuo said he envisions a system where someone can go online, log in once, and have access to every transaction he or she makes at the MVA.

Despite all of the effort being put into online access, the MVA is also working to reduce wait times. According to an analysis done by the Department of Legislative Services, the average wait time at the MVA is 31 minutes. That wait time has held steady for the last two years.

Part of the reason that Kuo said wait times have remained the same is because the MVA changed the way it measures them. Wait times were once measured by paper surveys, where customers wrote their perceived transaction times – some of them measuring their wait time from when they left their homes to go to the MVA, and others from when they arrived in the administration’s parking lot. Now, Kuo said, a new customer-tracking computer system automatically measures wait times to the second.

However, there is one technological upgrade that MVA does not have in the works. Sen. George Edwards, a Republican representing far Western Maryland, asked Kuo about driver’s license photos. If the licenses are renewed by mail, the picture from the expiring license is reused.

“Well, we’re looking at a way to digitally enhance the pictures,” Kuo said seriously. He paused a second. “Just kidding.”

After the senators finished laughing, Kuo explained that state law requires driver’s license pictures to be updated just once every 10 years.