Straight talk on the Kansas DMV
The Kansas City Star
Kansans like straight talk, and they tend to be very fair-minded when presented with a set of facts in proper context.
So when it comes to the state’s multi-year project to bring the Division of Vehicles’ computer system into the 21st century, it’s an important time for some straight talk to set the record straight.
First, our new computer system handled significantly more transactions last month than the old system handled in June 2011. In fact, the new system successfully processed more than 296,000 vehicle renewals, titles, and registrations for customers in June, compared with about 266,000 in the same month last year.
At the same time, despite positive trends in transaction numbers, the new system still has challenges we are working night and day to resolve to improve performance and ensure it will serve Kansans well for decades. It’s also true that some customers in several counties have experienced longer than usual wait times when conducting business in person at a county treasurer’s office.
Are these facts incompatible? No, because both the progress and challenges have been real.
By law, Kansas’ 105 county treasurers are the state’s agents for processing vehicle-related transactions, using a computer system provided by the state.
When the new vehicle system was installed in early May, county treasurers’ offices were unable to process renewals and titles for a week as 6.8 million vehicle records were converted and equipment was installed.
As expected, this conversion created a temporary backlog in May and June.
Thankfully, progress has been made. This progress is expected to allow transaction numbers, and customer wait times, to return to more standard levels moving forward.
During this time, we are providing specialized assistance to Johnson County and others on a temporary basis to ensure the quickest transition possible, and we applaud the strong efforts of county treasurer staff members who have been working hard.
We also applaud the people who have taken advantage of online and renewal-by-mail options and, therefore, never had to step foot in a busy county treasurer’s office.
In Johnson County, many took advantage of the county’s online wait line management system and experienced only short visits once they were notified by automated texts that their appointment times were near.
Citizens have expressed an understanding that there are many factors affecting wait times, ranging from the day of the month to computer system performance to the number of clerks serving customers.
We have apologized repeatedly to those who have been inconvenienced as part of this once-in-25-years conversion.
But recent media editorializing about the system has been unfair and has gone too far. One columnist who has never used the system recently described it as “monstrous,” “cumbersome,” “wonky,” “infamous,” “a fiasco,” and “greatly flawed” — all in one column. With that level of hyperbole, you would think the system had served zero customers, not well over 625,000 transactions since the second week of May.
While a system conversion of this magnitude is never easy, it was necessary. Kansas’ old mainframe software systems were among the oldest in the nation still used by a division of vehicles, and, metaphorically speaking, there’s only so much duct tape and string that can be used to keep such a system going. This is particularly true in the world of technology in which five years can be an eternity, let alone 25.
I personally reiterate our commitment to not rest until even more progress is made to improve the customer experience, in conjunction with our county treasurer partners. With more than a half million transactions already completed in the new system, I am optimistic we will succeed for the citizens we strive to serve.
Donna Shelite has been the Kansas Director of Vehicles since April 2011. She lives in Topeka.