MNLARS MESS: Troubled vehicle registration system goes back under microscope

- The Minnesota Department of Public Safety says it has made progress on reducing the backlog of processing automobile titles held up by glitches in the new MNLARS vehicle registration computer system.  But state senators say fixes aren’t coming fast enough and that there is no timeline for when the system will fully work.

“Solutions are what we need. I didn’t hear that today,” said Sen. Dan Hall (R-Burnsville).

The state has spent ten years and $93 million creating the new registration system to manage the titles, tabs and transfers of more than 7 million vehicles. Called MNLARS, it was meant to replace the old computer program created in 1982. Both DPS and the state’s information technology department called MNIT rolled out the new system across the state in late July, but there were immediate problems.

At a November hearing before the Senate Transportation Committee, deputy registrars, consumers and car dealers complained that MNLARS was a total failure.  

On Thursday, the president of the Minnesota Auto Dealer Association, Scott Lambert returned to the committee to say there have been some improvements.

“Only six percent of our members are receiving regular license plates outside of their 21-day window, and this down from 20 percent from last November,” said Lambert.  

He told also told senators that two-thirds of his members are still missing duplicate titles, but that it was down from three-quarters of the membership in November.  

“This is a core function of government that is simply not working and it’s not getting better and it’s not getting better fast enough,” said Lambert. 

But the deputy registrars who operate vehicle registration offices around the state said they’ve noticed improvements. Jeff Lenarz of the Minnesota Deputy Registrars Association said the system was unusable for them and their customers back in November.  

“I’m happy to report that has since resolved,” said Lenarz. “MNIT has installed patches or whatever they have done behind the scenes and that’s worked. I have not have not encountered those issues since then.”  

DPS Commissioner Mona Dohman said her department implemented mandatory overtime and weekend hours in late November to start reducing the backlog of titles waiting to be processed. They even brought over employees from the Department of Revenue to help. Since November, Dohman says DPS has processed 133,000 titles and it’s now mailing 6,000 titles a day.

“At the same time, I want to be transparent,” said Dohman. “There about 23,600 titles that cannot be processed at this time due to system limitations.”  

Senators wanted and did not get answers from MNIT as to when the system would be fixed. MNIT’s Chief Enterprise Architect Joan Redwing would only say they are still working with deputy registrars to figure out solutions.  

“We are planning a release of the system roadmap by the end of January that includes all of the stakeholder fixes and enhancement that are needed as soon as possible by the stake holders,” said Redwing.

Many senators recoiled at MNIT’s response and expressed their lack of confidence in the department’s ability to fix the program.  

“I just don’t have any faith that at this stage after ten years and $90 to $100 million that either MNIT or DPS has the innate ability to get this job done,” said Senate Transportation Chairman Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson).

MNIT is in the middle of a leadership change. Commissioner Tom Baden announced his retirement last week, citing health reasons. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton will choose Baden's replacement.

But Sen. Newman wants everyone tied to the MNLARS program to resign.

“I no longer have any faith that the folks who are currently trying to fix this have any ability to fix it,” said Newman. “I am frustrated because it’s going to cost my constituents a whole lot of money.”

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