Lawmakers, registrars sound off on rollout of new motor vehicle licensing system

By Jonathan Avise
Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman answers a question during testimony before the House Transportation Finance Committee Sept. 11, regarding problems with the department’s new licensing and registration system, MNLARS. Photo by Paul Battaglia

House lawmakers on Monday heard from Minnesotans exasperated by this summer’s rocky rollout of the state’s new computer system for managing motor vehicle licensing that has left licensing agents frustrated and seeking help from legislators.

Known as MNLARS, the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System made its debut on July 24 after roughly nine years and $90 million in planning and development. It replaced an existing 30-year-old computer system.

The upgraded system — which licensing agents across the state use to help drivers get tabs, titles and licenses — has had a rough start. Glitches have led to long lines, incorrectly calculated charges, and an inability for deputy registrar offices to process some transactions.

State officials, and deputy registrars and residents impacted by the transition, testified during a hearing before the House Transportation Finance Committee Monday on the effects of the changes.

“This is a big deal and there are a lot of very frustrated people,” said Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska), who chairs the committee.   

The Office of the Legislative Auditor conducted a preliminary review of the system at the request of the Legislature and found that long delays in the MNLARS development process, in addition to vague timelines and communication, have battered confidence in the project.

WATCH Rep. Torkelson expresses frustration with the MNLARS rollout

Officials from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and its Driver and Vehicle Services division acknowledged the problems created by MNLARS’ difficult start and said the department is continuing to work toward full functionality.

The changeover is a “once-in-a-generation” undertaking, said Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman, and the department “fully expected there would be issues.”

“We’ll do better,” she said. “We are going to continue to work diligently to make sure this system functions better in the future.”

WATCH Full video of the meeting on YouTube

Further upgrades to MNLARS are scheduled to be phased in over coming months. But the new system, as it stands, has meant increased paperwork and inconvenient workarounds, the committee heard from some of the state’s 175 deputy registrars — not to mention irritated customers.

Rep. Dave Baker (R-Willmar) said state officials should be doing more to help its deputy registrars, who are privately-owned businesses that deliver government motor vehicle licensing services and have dealt with the brunt of the problems.

“Right now, we are starting our eighth week of this rollout and our systems are not getting fixed as fast as they should be, Baker said.

He added later: “We have a whole bunch of Minnesota residents who have told us we have a problem.” 

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