Minn. lawmakers hear about problems with new computerized license system; Technological glitches plague system that cost twice its budget

Published 9:10 am Tuesday, September 12, 2017

By Kyle Potter

Associated Press

ST. PAUL — Car dealership managers, motor vehicle service employees and frustrated drivers sounded off during a hearing before lawmakers Monday about their problems with Minnesota’s new computer system for license plates and tabs.

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The state launched its long-awaited replacement for a 40-year-old mainframe in late July to process tabs, plates and titles — the first phase of an update that will spread to issuing driver’s licenses next year. But the new Minnesota Licensing and Registration System was surrounded in controversy. It was delayed by years and cost more than $90 million — double its original budget.

And the problems haven’t stopped.

Technological issues have resulted in long wait times across the state, and deputy registrars who run local motor vehicle service offices told lawmakers during the state House committee hearing that even rudimentary tasks require workarounds. Car dealerships are struggling to file and process paperwork for new license plates. Customers have made repeat trips to offices when license plate tabs never show up.

“The amount of anguish and time on our customers and our employees has been really hard to deal with,” said Kyle Allison, general manager of Luther Hopkins Honda. “It just puts an extreme amount of pressure on all our people.”

State officials acknowledge that the new system has some major issues, but they said these are part of a large-scale computer system overhaul. Driver and Vehicle Services Director Dawn Olson said some glaring issues were repaired in the two weeks after the July 24 launch and that fixes still are being rolled out in phases.

“We know that it’s a challenge, but we also know that it’s temporary,” Olson said.

But it’s still a headache for the employees processing license tab and title applications across the state. Gaye Smith of the Minnesota Deputy Registrars Association said the technical issues with the database are requiring long workarounds for once rudimentary processes. She said the new system is a step backward from the ancient system it replaced.

“Yes it was old, but it somewhat functioned. Now we have a system where we are turning customers away,” she said.

At his Hopkins car dealership, Allison said they’ve resorted to issuing two — and sometimes three — temporary permits to drivers while they wait for license plates for newly purchased cars.

The state has deflected some criticism of the new system’s performance by pointing out that it had processed more renewals for license tabs this August than in August 2016.

Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, called the botched rollout “a PR nightmare.”

“What I see happening is a lot of defense, a lot of shielding. You still have to have the ability to say you’re sorry,” he said.