Online driver’s license renewal fulfills one element of Chafee promise, but at a small price
Candidates are always pledging to eliminate government waste and improve efficiency. When he ran for governor, Lincoln Chafee said he would try to make it easier to do state business online at RI.gov, the state's main Internet portal.
"I will upgrade RI.gov to ensure that citizens can take maximum advantage of the public services they pay tax dollars to fund. The upgrade will include putting online government services that currently require a trip to state offices, such as making DMV appointments and renewing drivers' licenses. This initiative will make online services available for free."
The Chafee administration began making some progress on this promise last year (see story below). By August, 2011, long-distance truckers could get certain permits online, and engineers, landscape architects and land surveyors could renew their licenses through RI.gov. PolitiFact Rhode Island also reported that the administration was hoping to allow many drivers to renew their licenses online by Christmas 2011.
It's taken longer than expected, but the Chafee administration announced on May 10, 2012, that motorists are now able to make routine non-commercial license renewals online. (Commercial driver"s license renewals are not eligible because federal regulations say they must be done in person.)
Many motorists now can also renew their vehicle registrations online, except residents of Barrington, Central Falls, Exeter, South Kingstown and Warren, which restrict the process because of their systems to verify that you've paid your taxes.
Chafee had promised to make the online renewal services available for free.
But his administration hasn't quite lived up to that pledge. People who renew online must pay a $2 "enhanced access" fee. The reason: it costs extra to pay by credit card, but that's the only way to pay online. (In contrast, if you go in person to the DMV and pay by credit card, you're also charged extra, but that fee is $1.50.)
And the ability to schedule appointments with the DMV online has not yet been implemented.
At this stage, Chafee, who also gets credit for bringing down the DMV's aggravating wait time, is clearly making it easier to do business online with the state.
Ultimately, because part of his promise was a pledge to establish an online system for scheduling DMV appointments and that system is still not in place, we are continuing to rate this a promise In The Works.
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PolitiFact.com, "Getting vendor computers to talk to each other is the latest challenge," Aug. 15, 2011
RI.gov, "Governor Lincoln D. Chafee Announces Online Driver's License Renewals," May 10, 2012, accessed May 11, 2012
Interviews, Christine Hunsinger, spokeswoman, Gov. Lincoln Chafee, May 11 and 16, 2012
Getting vendor computers to talk to each other is the latest challenge
Many Rhode Islanders have squandered hours of their lives sitting on a bench at the Division of Motor Vehicles, waiting to perform a simple task such as renewing a driver"s license. At such moments, many thoughts may pass through their minds. Many are unprintable. But one obvious thought is: Why can"t I do this online?
Many of the candidates for governor vowed to fix the DMV, and Chafee announced a plan "to utilize modern information technologies to make government services easier to use, government operations more transparent, and government more efficient overall.” As part of that plan, he said, "I will upgrade RI.gov to ensure that citizens can take maximum advantage of the public services they pay tax dollars to fund. The upgrade will include putting online government services that currently require a trip to state offices, such as making the DMV appointments and renewing drivers" licenses.”
After seven months of the Chafee administration, Rhode Islanders still cannot renew driver"s licenses online.
But the DMV has made upgrades to its online services, according to Lisa S. Holley, the DMV"s interim administrator. For example, long-distance truckers now can get permits online, and she just approved plans that in a few weeks will allow people to register leased vehicles online for the first time.
Also, the state has upgraded RI.gov by, for example, allowing online license renewals for engineers, landscape architects and land surveyors, Chafee spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger said. And the administration is moving ahead with plans that will allow drivers to renew their licenses online by the end of this year, she said.
Holley said online license renewals are a major priority for her and for Chafee. With good reason. The state has some 755,000 licensed drivers, and about 158,000 of them will renew their licenses this year. Online license renewals would save at least half those people a trip to the DMV, she said, using a conservative estimate recognizing that some people would still need to come to the DMV for various reasons, such as eye tests. "As soon as we get this up and running, I think it will make a real big impact on wait times,” she said.
But first, RI.gov -- which is the online portal vendor and not a state website -- must work out a system of communicating via computer with L-1 Identity Solutions, the vendor that provides licenses to drivers, Holley said.
"We are ready to roll. We are just waiting on the vendors to work out the interfaces between the two vendors,” she said. "My hope is that within eight weeks we are live. That"s my hope, but I"ve learned I have a more aggressive schedule than programmers and IT people do.”
The DMV will need to take up to $150,000 from its budget to make that happen, Holley said. The DMV already has that money in its operating budget, Hunsinger said.
What about Chafee"s idea of making DMV appointments online? Holley said, "We plan to do that for complex transactions” at some point. But, she said, "the big priority is online licensing” because that will do more to cut wait times.
Hunsinger said, "We have timelines in place, and we expect to meet those. We hope to have online license renewals up and running by Christmas.”
If he doesn"t deliver online license renewals by Christmas, Chafee will deserve a lump of coal in his stocking. In the meantime, we"ll rate this promise as "In the Works.”
ChafeeForGovernor.com, "Chafee Announces New 'Open Government' Initiative for Open, Accessible, Accountable State Government," Oct. 11, 2010
Interview and email, Lisa S. Holley, the DMV interim administrator, Aug. 4-5, 2011
Interview, Christine Hunsinger, Chafee spokeswoman, Aug 4-5, 2011
ScribD.com, "Meeting Notes - June 20, 2011; DMV Driver's License Renewals Online," accessed Aug. 5, 2011