HARTFORD, Conn. — Working for months to improve customer service at Connecticut's Department of Motor Vehicles, which has been hampered by computer problems and long wait times, the agency's new chief was hit last week with a new challenge.
One of the two automobile clubs that provide license renewal services to the public, part of an effort to reduce traffic at the DMV's busy branches, decided on Monday to only provide those services to its members. AAA Northeast said it has seen a large influx of non-members at its eight offices in Fairfield, New Haven and Litchfield counties and is worried customer service to dues-paying members was suffering.
DMV Commissioner Michael Bzdyra said AAA Northeast's decision came as a total surprise. He has since officially warned the club it's in default of a state contract.
"Just as we're starting to turn the corner, this comes our way," he told The Associated Press in an interview. "We'll deal with it."
Bzdyra, appointed by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in March, said progress has been made over the past seven months to fix many glitches that have plagued the agency's new computer system, while acknowledging some still remain. Launched last year, the technology overhaul caused numerous headaches, ranging from mistakenly canceled vehicle registrations to unsent registration renewal notifications. Meanwhile, customers have faced hourslong wait times at branches.
Malloy has hoped that AAA Northeast and AAA Allied, which have offices in the five remaining counties, could take on more duties beyond simple license renewals to help combat the wait-time problem. State lawmakers recently passed legislation allowing for an expanded partnership between the state and the clubs so they could provide other services including vehicle registration renewals.
Despite AAA Northeast's recent actions — AAA Allied is still conducting licensing renewals for the general public — Bzdyra said the DMV still wants to roll out a plan allowing other entities to handle "clean" vehicle registrations. It's unclear, however, when that will happen. A team is reviewing options, including a possible replacement partner. Bzdyra said some potential partners could include the U.S. Postal Service, local town halls or other state agencies.
AAA Northeast has not ruled out somehow continuing its long relationship with the DMV.
"Over the years, the program has become very popular with our members," said AAA Northeast President and CEO Mark Shaw, referring to the license renewals. "And I'm sure we can work together to find a solution that helps us meet the expectations of members while keeping the lines at DMV offices from getting unbearably longer."
Meanwhile, other efforts to make the DMV less of a hassle for customers are also underway. Two weeks ago, a reorganized customer service desk was created at the Wethersfield branch as part of a pilot program. Customers check with a DMV staffer to make sure they have all of the proper documents before waiting in line. The concept was replicated at DMV's Enfield office last week. Both branches are also testing new, simplified registration forms.
Additionally, the State Bond Commission approved $1.8 million to upgrade the DMV's customer call center. Last year, the agency handled 2.1 million calls but left another 200,000 customers stranded.
"It's another piece of the puzzle to making our department more customer-friendly," Bzdyra said.