DMV turns to automation

Longtime clerk Charlayne Higginson, left, and Mesa County Department of Motor Vehicle manager Bobbie Gross work together on a problem that a customer is having at Charlayne’s desk in the DMV at Mesa County’s Central Services building, 200 S. Spruce St.

One of the least popular things Mesa County has done is cut to one the number of offices in which folks can get new vehicle license tags.

And one of the potentially most popular is the addition of automation.

That’s what clerks in the county Motor Vehicles office, at 220 S. Spruce St., said they hear from customers who stream in daily to pay taxes, change titles, deal with liens and any number of other vehicle-related issues.

While most customers understand why Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner closed down outlying clerk’s offices, they nonetheless miss the convenience and ease of dealing with smaller offices in Fruita and Clifton, DMV clerk Charlayne Higginson said.

“They’re very verbal about it,” Higginson said. “They’ll tell you what they think.”

Few, however, are abusive and “for the most part, people are understanding,” said Higginson, who has worked in the DMV office for 15 years.

Newcomer Kate Durrant, in the middle of a six-week training period before she can begin dealing with customers directly at the counter, already has had one gratifying experience while tending to the new kiosk, at which customers can do their renewal business in minutes.

One customer took a 150-mile round trip to downtown Grand Junction for new tags and was directed to the kiosk, which Durrant happened to be tending as part of her training.

The kiosk actually prompts customers through the process, but Durrant “walked her through it,” she said.

The customer’s reaction to the kiosk? “It made my experience incredible,” she told Durrant.

The Legislature approved the use of self-service kiosks this year in a bill carried by state Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, and Mesa County is one of the first to get one.

As many as 25 percent of the people who go to the DMV will be directed to the kiosk, reducing the waiting times overall, Reiner said.

The kiosk, which charges a $3 convenience fee, and counter staff provide customers with something they value, which is the ability to walk out with new tags or new license plates.

As of Tuesday, the kiosk handled 289 transactions during its first week on the job. 

Many customers would prefer to get those things immediately rather than wait on the mail to deliver them, Higginson said.

The kiosk isn’t the only time-saving measure that Reiner is bringing to bear.

Several of the ideas came from the staff, which came forth when supervisors were trained at the Denver Peak Academy, Reiner said.

It turned out, for instance, that background noise was more than an irritant, but a time-wasting distraction making it difficult to hear and deal with customers, increasing the waiting time.

Reiner measured the sound in the waiting room using a noise-level app on her smartphone and found that noise in the waiting room was well over the normal conversational level of 60 decibels. The average in the DMV was 71, Reiner said. A decibel level of 85 can be harmful to hearing. One day, the noise hit 89 db when there was a screaming child in the waiting room, she said.

So, the kiosk is outside the waiting room and in the lobby, as is a staff member who greets customers and checks their paperwork so they don’t wait for an appointment only to learn that they need documents they failed to bring.

That “triage” position “has been a huge success,” Higginson said.

Another time saver is the elimination of a third call to waiting customers.

Calling out numbers three times proved wasteful as only 3 percent of customers actually responded to the final call, Reiner said

Clerks waited 65 seconds to go through three calls, adding to the length of time others had to wait, Reiner said.

That’s about a quarter of the time that Higginson said it takes for a clerk to process a simple renewal.

Some appointments can last for more than an hour if they’re complicated transactions involving, for example, changes of ownership and different states, Higginson said.

Colorado’s neighbor, Utah, for instance, allows transfer of vehicle ownership in a way that Colorado doesn’t allow, Higginson said. It can take a long time for clerks to learn how to sort through those complications.

Getting it all down can take three or four years, Higginson said, and the work never stops “because statutes and laws keep changing.”

Customers also can track their numbers on their smartphones while catching up on errands nearby, Reiner said.

Customers as well can drop off their paperwork in 24-hour ballot boxes for processing during business hours.

The upshot on all the efforts so far is that the longest wait times at the DMV have been cut from 190 minutes in June to 169 so far in July, and average wait times are down from 87 minutes to 73.

Big crowds, however, have an effect, and on Tuesday, wait times went back to two hours as owners sought their tags as the end-of-the-month rush began, Reiner said.


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