NEVADA FOCUS: DMV lines still backed up; other states solve problem

LAS VEGAS - Rob Mulidore's heart jumped when he pulled up to the Department of Motor Vehicles' North Las Vegas office and spotted only a few cars in the parking lot.

No line at the DMV?

''I was like, 'Right on,' '' Mulidore said. ''I thought I was really lucky.''

But within seconds, Mulidore received the grim news: The office on Carey Avenue is closed, and Mulidore, like hundreds of other motorists whose hopes were dashed, was directed to other offices.

At the Flamingo Road office he learned the horror stories of four-hour lines are not fiction. After a three-hour wait and an hour to go, Mulidore began looking to fellow motorists to make a deal - $50 for a lower number.

Customers scoff when they learn DMV officials are pleased with customer service improvements made since the state's $35 million Genesis computer system was installed last year. Neither they nor employees are sold on the new system.

And don't think Gov. Kenny Guinn isn't aware of the concerns and complaints.

''At this point the governor would be willing to consider anything to alleviate lines at the DMV,'' Guinn's spokesman Jack Finn said.

Critics say the governor might start by studying other states' programs that have reduced the half-day wait or at least made it more bearable.

For example, four-hour lines were nothing in Miami about five years ago. Some motorists camped at the front doors of the motor vehicle office so they could be sure to complete their paperwork the next day.

Now the average wait is 15 to 20 minutes, said Janet Dennis, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

''The Legislature cut our budget, and we lost 160 people. At the same time there were influxes from Haiti and Cuba,'' Dennis said. ''We were getting hit from every which way.''

The state's Florida Licensing on Wheels program has been the key to reducing lines. The department operates three FLOW vehicles, which park for a day at large corporations, shopping centers or high schools if a large number of students have passed driver's education courses.

The mobile units can take care of registration and license renewals.

''We can take care of large volumes in high population areas,'' said Dennis, who expects the state to add four more FLOW buses to the fleet.

Dennis said the motor vehicle division also accepts appointments and has designated express lines for straightforward transactions such as renewals.

In Virginia, motorists can click on the Internet before heading to the DMV. On the website they can see the line and the anticipated wait time, which is posted and updated regularly.

Evan Nossoff, spokesman for the DMV in California, said the state's most effective method of trimming lines has been public announcements encouraging mail-in registration and license renewals.

He said 60 percent of California motorists renew their licenses through mail. The state has also authorized American Automobile Association offices to provide DMV services, including handing out new license plates and registration tags.

John Thogerson, who also spent more than three hours at the DMV in Las Vegas, said in West Virginia motor vehicle offices the wait time is printed on number slips issued to customers.

''All DMVs suck, but at least they told you how long you had to wait so you could leave,'' Thogerson said.

Nevada DMV spokesman Kevin Malone said the department is working on programs to lessen the crowds.

Last week, the division began mailing registration renewal forms with Internet access numbers so motorists can register their vehicles online. The test program will be evaluated before access codes are sent with all renewal forms.

Soon smog check stations will be linked to the DMV so registration information can be sent to the main office when a motorist's vehicle passes the test. But, Malone said, the best way to avoid lines is by mailing registration forms.

DMV offices in Las Vegas do not accept appointments. And while the state allows auto dealerships to register vehicles, they must buy their own equipment and, unlike other states, they cannot charge for the service.

While the DMV's new computers allow one service technician to handle motorists' various needs, it is slower than the old system and employees have their doubts about whether it is as efficient.

DMV workers, who asked not to be named, said they can process only half the paperwork they could process with the old computer system. Rather than working with a single window on their computer screen, customer service employees must open and close 13 windows.

Contributing to the backlog in Las Vegas is the closing of the Carey office for renovations. When it reopens May 22, it will provide the same services as the Flamingo branch - customers will take numbers rather than literally stand in line.

Steve Crosby, program officer for the Carey branch, acknowledges the timing of the renovation could have been better. But, he said, the improvements were budgeted for fiscal year 2000 and time is running out.

While improvements are under way, DMV service technicians Ann Lee and Bo Buonamano - who are accustomed to dealing with impatient customers - sit in front of the office and break the news to hopeful motorists.

''Ninety-five percent of them say, 'I thought I got lucky today,' '' Lee said. ''Most of them are pretty nice about it; they don't get too upset.''


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