Wait for auto tags about to get longer (new $30 million computer system)

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Wait for auto tags about to get longer

Kevin P. Connolly of The Sentinel Staff

Published in The Orlando Sentinel on September 25, 1999.

Don't expect to be in the fast lane when renewing your vehicle registration.

A new $30 million statewide computer system scheduled to be up and running Friday has done nothing to ease the long wait. There is no immediate end in sight to waits of 45 minutes or more for transactions that used to take a fraction of that time.

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles' new computer system already has been blamed for causing long lines, equipment shutdowns and other problems at county tag offices statewide during a massive conversion the past several months.

State auditors, in a recently released report, criticized the department for failing to adequately test the system and provide sufficient training before phasing it in earlier this year.

"Ever since they put the new computers in, it's been screwed up," said a frustrated Josh Nieves this week as he waited for the third time in an hourlong line at the West Colonial Drive tag office.

During two previous visits, the 42-year-old aircraft mechanic was turned away after waiting more than an hour each time because of missing paperwork.

"When I get up there, I wait and wait and wait," he said.

One way to avoid waiting is to use the mail-in renewal notice. But don't procrastinate, because the computer switchover has extended the turnaround time, officials say.

Complaints at tag offices hit a peak this summer, when the bulk of the computer work was being done amid the annual crush of renewing registrations for commercial vehicles, boats, and hunting and fishing licenses.

The system handles about 25 million vehicle and drivers-license records.

"Anyone who is going to institute a system of this size could not expect it to go perfectly," department spokeswoman Janet Dennis said. "I think we are going to see improved speed as we are going to continue to progress through this."

Still, county tax collectors, who run tag agencies for the state, said it takes about twice as long -- sometimes longer -- to process transactions than it did with the old system.

"The equipment doesn't have the speed of the old one," Orange County Tax Collector Earl K. Wood said.

Not so, said Dennis. It's just taking people time to learn the system as they convert old data into the new system, she said.

The system is more accurate, handles more information and eventually will make things more convenient for taxpayers, Dennis said.

Meanwhile, officials are asking customers to be patient. A big test for the new system will come Friday, when the new computers are due to be running at all 245 tag offices in Florida. At last count, 91 percent of all transactions were being handled on the new system.

The old computers will become obsolete after Thursday because of Y2K-compliance issues.

In Seminole County, Assistant Tax Collector Paul Warsicki predicts a seamless transition to the new system.

"We are pretty much on it right now, quite frankly," Warsicki said. "It's slow, but it's running pretty good."

But Lake County Tax Collector Bob McKee said he has "tremendous reservations" about the looming switchover.

"What I'm concerned about is when all 67 counties go on-line, what their impact will have on the overall database," McKee said. "Will it be functional and at what rate?"

There have been at least three statewide computer crashes this year caused by the conversion, the most recent Sept. 8 with the drivers-license database, officials said.

State officials were scrambling to make changes that will allow clerks to record information if computers go off-line.

Also, the department is bolstering its technical support staff in Tallahassee from 12 to 62 workers.

While most officials, including state auditors, think the system eventually will get better and surpass the performance of the old computers, some Volusia County officials remain skeptical.

"We would just like the public to know we are not thrilled with the service we are providing," said Barney Kane, Volusia's revenue director. "But it appears to be the new reality based on the system we have to work with."

[Posted 09/24/1999 11:49 PM EST]


-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), September 27, 1999


BBWWAAHHAHAHAHAHAH! Ain't Progress grand. October 1 gonna hurt.

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (allaha@earthlink.net), September 27, 1999.

Inadequate test time = implementation pain.

-- Mad Monk (madmonk@hawaiian.net), September 27, 1999.

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