A Year Later Vehicle Registration System Still in Meltdown Mode

A quick check of vanity license plates registered in Minnesota reveals that “INEPT” is still available for Gov. Mark Dayton’s official vehicle in recognition of his administration’s role in causing the epic breakdown of the state’s vehicle registration system (MNLARS).

You may recall that the wildly defective new Minnesota Licensing and Registration System rolled out a year ago to widespread frustration and ridicule among customers and registrars over technical malfunctions. It didn’t help that the system was years overdue and tens of millions of dollars over budget.

The latest episode of the MNLARS meltdown unfolds in St. Louis County with the Duluth News Tribune documenting mass confusion at registrar offices in northeastern Minnesota.

“Fiasco” is the word St. Louis County Auditor Don Dicklich uses to describe the implementation of MNLARS.

“Since July of 2017, the new system has created many issues for residents of the state. The system went live without full compatibility for things as easy as registering a motor vehicle or renewing customer tabs. Tight turnaround and communication from the state came to an abrupt stop … just two months after going live with the new system, and license and title turnaround have been as long as 100 days. Even longer for some customers still waiting on titles since June of 2017,” Dicklich told the St. Louis County Board last week.

A year later, applicants for vehicle titles and license tabs still have to devise ways to work around the system. The options include short-term permits offered on the spot to get them by in hopes their tabs and plates arrive someday down the road.

At the St. Louis County Service Center in Duluth, supervisor Ben Martin said they’ve reached a point where some residents have been issued four or five 60-day permits in the time they’ve waited for their renewed license tabs from the state.

“The state has only one thing to tell us — just give them a 60-day permit and they’ll fix it. Well, those don’t get done. We’ve found some ways to go around and to manage it and to communicate with the customer that we’re willing to help them, but you are the state’s customer,” Martin said.

The city of Duluth no longer even hands out tickets for out-of-date tabs given the likelihood the driver’s application is still stuck in the MNLARS system.

“Until we can confirm with the state that they’ve resolved their issues, it just seemed to us that it was an inconvenience to our citizens to have to now come in and prove that they actually did purchase them with registration and then we have to deal with voiding a ticket. The delay was causing late fees and those things can tie up resources and upset people,” Marquardt said.

The backlog caused by the state’s broken system not only costs a lot of time, but also money, particularly for privately owned registrars. A bill to compensate privately owned registrars was vetoed by Dayton recently.

While the county’s service center has lost about $65,000 due to the problems, Dicklich said it still has revenue to keep the center self-sustaining and they’re not facing as much financial stress as private deputy registrars. At [Penny] Reedy’s private registrar in Ely, she and her husband stopped taking a paycheck from the business over the winter and put money from their savings and pension into the business to keep it afloat — something she said they’ve never had to do before. She added, “It was rough there for quite a few months.”

The 2018 Minnesota Legislature gave the Department of Public Safety more than $9 million to revamp the system. But DPS’ latest report identifies 163 defects and glitches left to fix, while complaining it needs more taxpayer funding to complete the job–again.