10 ways Minnesota's new vehicle license system isn't working
ST. PAUL — Depending whom you ask, Minnesota's new computer system to handle vehicle licenses and titles is either mostly working with glitches, or barely working with major failings.
Those who say mostly working — generally the folks in the state Department of Vehicle Services and IT Services — note that of the 650,000 transactions the new system, known as MNLARS, has processed since its launch in July, the ones that have fully failed number in the mere thousands — a percent or 2.
Those who say it's one big fail have evidence as well. Below are some of the examples, from the major to the mundane — gleaned from interviews with and public statements by license center workers, insurers, car dealers, state officials, lawmakers, and regular folks dealing with the problems.
New plate delays
This is the big one. Some dealers have taken to issuing a pair of 21-day temporary tabs when someone buys a new car — so the customers won't have to reapply for a second one when the new ones don't arrive on time.
Some of the delays have been attributed to slow performance of the MNLARS software. State officials said they believed this issue would be taken care of last week. Other delays might be attributed to a steep learning curve for the new system, which operators contend is the result of poor training and direction from the state. But some delays remain unexplained, and some people have been waiting since July for plates that should have come within 30 days.
To deal with things that aren't working with MNLARS, or that MNLARS simply can't do, state information technology officials have been pushing out frequent patches, Band-Aids and workarounds. As of last week, the count was up to 111 "job aids," bits of advice and procedures that can work despite the system as it currently stands. "How am I supposed to train people in 111 workarounds?" Donny Vosen, a private license center operator in Brainerd, complained publicly.
Incorrect fees and taxes
A MNLARS feature called the "base value calculator" is often wrong. That's according to a lot of people. "We know the transactions aren't happening for the right amount," Judy Randall, the state's deputy legislative auditor, told lawmakers at a recent hearing. Sometimes it's a dollar, sometimes it's $100. But Randall said it's not clear how far off the miscalculations are. "You have all these citizens who aren't paying the right amount," she said. "Are you going to charge them (if they were underbilled)? Are you going to refund them (if they were overbilled)?"
Can't fix mistakes
If a computer operator makes a mistake, such as entering an incorrect VIN (17-character vehicle identification number) or misspelling a name, and if that error isn't caught early on, it can't be fixed — without canceling the entire transaction and starting over. There's a point of no return in the data-entry portion that's frustrating many involved, and causing delays.
A number of screens showing the proof of what was done can't be printed or saved — but license centers want proof that they did what they were supposed to. As a result, a number of license centers have begun creating backups in a strained manner: screengrab, paste into Word or some other computer program, print. At least two centers that prefer electronic records have purchased scanners to then scan the printed pages.
"The system is down" is becoming a common refrain uttered by license centers and heard by customers. There's been a lot of finger-pointing about whose bandwidth — or computers, or internet providers, or browsers — are to blame, but one thing is clear: At any given computer terminal, MNLARS goes down a lot.
At $2 a pop, it might not sound like much, but at least 50,000 transactions have been assigned late fees, which are being picked up by car dealers, deputy registrars and customers. It adds up, and critics say the only reason these transactions are "late" is because MNLARS doesn't work.
Can't expedite title requests
In theory, the implementation of MNLARS should have rendered the old "expedited title request," for which an extra fee was paid, obsolete. That's because that extra fee used to allow your paperwork — and it was paper — to go on the top of the data-entry person's pile, so your title would get processed faster than others. The new system requires all the data to be entered at the beginning, so no expediting is needed. Except, everything is behind schedule.
A number of workers have complained that the basic visual design of MNLARS is literally painful to their eyes. A number of screens involve gray type on a gray background, and on many computer monitors, it's simply hard to read.