fb-pixelGovernor touts reduced wait times at RMV offices - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

Governor touts reduced wait times at RMV offices

With Registrar Erin Deveney (left) and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, Governor Charlie Baker outlined the changes.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

People with wan faces and thousand-yard stares sat waiting for their number to be called.

They perked up when a soothing automated female voice said, “Now serving E-one-zero-six,” only to look down at their ticket and realize it wasn’t yet their time.

But several customers leaving a Boston branch of the long-reviled Registry of Motor Vehicles said the process was, in fact, noticeably quicker than on previous visits.

And that’s probably music to the ears of Governor Charlie Baker. The Republican, who ran last year on a platform of making government more efficient and effective, crowed in a Monday news conference about how well a new queuing system — along with other changes instituted this year — is working to get people in and out of the RMV more quickly.


In November 2014, when Democratic Governor Deval Patrick was in office, 59 percent of RMV customers were served in under 30 minutes, according to the state Department of Transportation. Last month, 74 percent were served in under 30 minutes.

Customers used to wait in one often massive line to get a slip of a paper with a number that determined when they would be helped by an RMV employee at another counter. There was the possibility of waiting in yet more lines, too, depending on the transaction.

Now, at 11 of 30 RMV branches, there are two simple, color-coded queues — a green “Ready to Go Line” for people who have their paperwork in order and an orange line for folks who need more help or are performing lengthier transactions.

The RMV has also channeled Apple retail stores, placing a greeter near the door to help people figure out what paperwork they need for their transaction, say converting an out-of-state license, and directing them to the right queue, depending on whether their forms are in order. And it’s also revamped the website, MassRMV.com.


“The key to the new system is separating people who are ready from people who need a little extra help,” said Stephanie Pollack, the secretary of transportation.

Baker said his administration’s goal is to have 90 percent of people in and out in a half-hour or less, so they can easily get their RMV business done before work or on a lunch break.

“The point here is to create an experience for people that is dependable and reliable, and one they can expect will only take about 30 minutes or so out of their day, unless they have a very complicated set of transactions they need to do,” he said.

The RMV plans to convert all branches to this two-line system by the spring of 2016, according to the Department of Transportation.

But, in the restrained language of bureaucracy, officials acknowledged that there are still parts of the RMV that live up to the agency’s poor public reputation.

Erin Deveney, the registrar of motor vehicles, said that long wait times for scheduling road tests for driver’s licenses “is one of the areas that we continue to have to make more progress on.”

She also defended a program that the New England Center for Investigative Reporting found created a form of “pay-to-play” road tests. The news organization reported applicants were able to jump the long road test line “if they pay anywhere from $75 to $195 extra to a driving school — whether or not they took driving lessons from it.”


So how do Massachusetts drivers find the new, improved RMV?

Customers walking out of the Boston branch on Blackstone Street on Monday were almost universal in their praise for how efficient the process was once they had their paperwork in order — and their disdain for the burdensome bureaucratic steps to get to that point.

Michelle Whitaker, a 32-year-old Boston resident who was renewing a moped registration, had to come back to the RMV a second time. On her original visit, she said she had a photo of her old moped registration on her smartphone, but the employee behind the counter wouldn’t look at it digitally. So Whitaker went to her boyfriend’s nearby office and printed a copy of the photo of her old registration — which was accepted.

Still, holding a white moped helmet on her way out, she praised the new system: “The green and orange line thing is awesome. Because it definitely helps to know that the people in front of you are prepared to be there, so you’re not going to be stuck behind somebody asking a ton of questions.”

Jennifer Shade, a Boxborough resident changing a title, said Monday the RMV was more efficient than it had been on her previous visits. But, she explained, this was her second visit to complete the transaction. On her first, at the branch in Milford, she checked the wrong box and then had to get a form notarized before she could continue with the transaction.


At the Boston branch, “it went smoothly today, but the whole system is a little broken,” she said with a laugh.

Jamie Hughes, a former Baltimore resident who was converting a Maryland license, completed her application online and said the website was very clear about what she needed to bring.

“I had a great experience. I waited like 10 minutes,” she said. “I was surprised.”

Should Baker, who is expected to run for reelection in 2018, make transactions at the RMV less unpleasant — even efficient — it could be a huge political plus. The RMV is seen as one of two state agencies that the average resident interacts with the most. So a positive shift there may be extrapolated by voters as a good change in the way the whole massive state bureaucracy works.

The other agency is the Department of Revenue. But even a new system of lines or a website upgrade there is unlikely to make the annual April disgorgement any less painful.

Deveney spoke Monday at a press conference in Boston about the changes the Registry of Motor Vehicles has made in an effort to reduce wait times and improve customer service.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.