It was business as usual Thursday at the Department of Motor Vehicles Cranston offices. The parking lot was full, lines snaked inside the building, waits were 90 minutes, if not longer.
But a lineup of officials including DMV Administrator Walter “Bud” Craddock didn’t keep news reporters waiting. Fact is, they even waited for reporters to arrive.
Their message, which has already reached thousands of motorists who are scheduled to renew their registrations and licenses this month with a pink insert accompanying their renewal notices, is to take all steps to avoid visiting the registry until conversion to a new computer system is completed this summer. The plan is to switch from “Reagan-era” computers with their black and white screens to a new system that has been in the making for 10 years on Wednesday, July 5. In preparation, the DMV urges motorists to complete their transactions online by Thursday, June 29, or through the mail by Friday, June 30. Banking charges have been waived for most DMV online transactions to promote the process and avoid visits.
“We need the help and cooperation of Rhode Islanders,” said Craddock. “Use the mail or email, but please don’t come in or delay action,” he said.
Conversion to the new system that was to have cost $8.8 million when started in 2007 and now has a $20 million price tag will begin on June 30. It will continue on Saturday, July 1, as the new system comes online. On Monday, July 3 all DMV personnel are expected to be on the job. Some of them – mostly technicians – will be back on July 4, and on the 5th all hands will be on deck, said Paul Grimaldi, spokesman for the RI Department of Revenue who is helping coordinate the project. He said the plan calls the current system, dubbed the “legacy system,” to be placed on standby. DMV branch offices and AAA will be closed for transactions for that week as any bugs encountered from the main office in Cranston are being worked out.
Grimaldi acknowledged there’s “skepticism” over the state’s ability to complete the conversion but that measures have been taken to ensure as few setbacks as possible. He said projections are to have the system fully in place within 30 days.
Including what is done by AAA, the department processes about 35,000 transactions a month. Grimaldi said people obtaining a license for the first time, registering a vehicle new to them and new truck registrations and commercial registrations and licenses need to visit the registry in person.
“This is as close to military precision as possible,” said Revenue Director Robert S. Hull, “but it’s going to be bumpy.” He said the new system would “clean up data” and make it more secure. The first step, he said, is simply to replace the current system with enhancements following once the system is running smoothly. He said the conversion has required 2.5 million lines of new code. So far the system looks ready to go, but Hull added, “We will not go live if we’re not comfortable.”
Training on the new system has started in branch offices.
In an effort to meet the public’s needs, AAA Northeast will process DMV transactions for non-members during the computer launch period. The exception is July 1 to July 7 when AAA offices won’t be able to complete any transactions, according to a release issued by the DMV. David Hempe, director of branch operations for AAA, said their offices have already seen about a 7 percent increase in traffic since notices went out that AAA would serve non-members in an effort to facilitate the conversion.
Craddock said if motorists have no choice but to visit DMV offices, then they should expect longer than customary waits and “please be patient.”
In a statement, he said, “Our employees have been waiting a long time for this new system to come into place. They are eager to leave behind an outdated system and move to work on a modern, unified system that will help them serve Rhode Islanders more efficiently and faster.”
He said that in coming months Rhode Islanders should see the benefits of the new system with expanded online services and shorter waits in Cranston and branches across the state.