by: Trinity Gruenberg
trinity@inhnews.com

 


    Nothing is more frustrating than going to the DMV and waiting in line to renew your tabs. Frustrations have risen with the release of the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS) project that has caused major headaches, longer wait times and complete shut downs.
    MNLARS is a multi-year initiative of DVS to replace its 30-year-old legacy IT system.
    According to the Department of Public Safety website, MNLARS will replace the core functionality for Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) operations. When finished, it will be an efficient, secure web-based system for driver’s license, identification card and vehicle registration and ownership transactions.
    “When you contact the state, they will tell you they are running at 99 percent and have processed more transactions than ever before. That is 100 percent false,” said Dave Werlinger, co-owner of Goplen Limited. 
     The motor vehicle portion of MNLARS was implemented on July 24 and Goplen Limited in Long Prairie has had nothing but issues with the new system. 
    Werlinge is one of the 78 privately owned deputy registrars in the state. The other 90 offices are operated by a city or county.
    The formerly elected position was put to an end by Governor Rudy Perpich to prevent putting people in charge who didn’t know how to operate the system and it gave elected officials the option to incorporate and own the business. 
    That is how the Goplens got their start and ran the operation from the porch of their house for over 30 years. 
    Werlinger purchased Goplen Inc. in 1996 and trained with them until the official takeover on January 1, 1997. They kept the name to make it easier on the state’s records, with one small name change, Goplen Limited. 
    The building used to be a café and gas station. Bill Werlinger, Dave’s father, has owned the building for over 40 years it also housed his insurance company Werlinger-Mitzel Insurance. Goplen Limited shares the building with Advantage One Insurance. 
    The former tan and maroon exterior were replaced with to the blue and gray siding this spring.
    They have recently remodeled the building, inside and out. Their new counter came from a bank in Sauk Centre. The curved teller line gives the employees more room to work. 
    “We couldn’t walk behind people to get a plate. We needed more room. Yes, the customers lost some space, but we gained a lot,” said Office Manager Arlene Geisenhof.
    They’ve also added a fresh coat of paint and ripped out the carpet and replaced it with tile flooring.
    “You don’t want to do business in a place that looks run down,” said Werlinger.
    Geisenhof has 30 years experience and combined with Werlinger’s  22 years in the business, they have 52 years experience to better serve their customers. 
    The easy going office environment and an understanding boss still can’t combat the stress by the MNLARS system.
    Reports are created daily to track each transaction (tabs, license plates, etc.) The state collects their transactions at the end of the day, while the owners keep the fees. The private owners are not paid by the state and are completely supported through fees. 
    “We don’t get a salary, benefits or help from the state, other than them sending us stickers, plates, forms and a crappy computer system,” said Werlinger. 
    “The system worked so smoothly before. Now it is just a nightmare,” said Geisenhof. 
    They were told they were getting the updated system to have a quicker turn around time for titles, 7-10 business days (two weeks).
    “I find that hard to believe when we can’t process half of the transactions,” said Werlinger. 
    Since the MNLARS program went live on July 24, the office has closed on several different occasions due to system issues. 
    “One day the state went down for four hours. We have no means to assist our customers. So we had to close,” said Geisenhof.
    They were closed the Monday and Tuesday after the program was released because the system was not working. 
    “That’s the hard part of being a small business owner. Every day that you’re closed, you are losing revenue and you are not able to help your customers,” said Werlinger.
    Starting September 5, they are implementing new hours, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday-Friday. The change comes as a part of the MNLARS issues. 
    “At the end of the day, previously we could count down and balance in minutes. Now, we may close at 4 p.m., but then will be here until 5-5:30 p.m., because it takes that long to balance it in the new system,” said Werlinger.
    He also hired two more additional staff members due to the increased wait time by the system and it has also raised his overhead costs. 
    They had their first update last weekend and endured several maintenance fixes. 
    “Things we could do last week, we could not do this week,” said Geisenhof.
    With the old system they could get the driver’s license information to process the transaction, now they are doing “the states job” and have to fill in additional information such as the VIN number of the vehicle, year, make, model, color, mileage and base value. 
    They should be able to scan the driver’s license to input all the information, but it has caused the system to lock up and shows an ‘error 500’ that nobody can explain to them what it actually means. For Goplen it is essentially the “black screen of death”.
    “Then that vehicle application is locked. We can’t transfer it, we can’t renew it. We can’t do anything,” said Geisenhof.
    Currently, they cannot transfer specialty plates such as critical habitat because they are not in the system.
    Also due to a massive system flaw, they could not close out their reports. Which means the state couldn’t get their money that ranged in the millions, and Goplen could not collect the fees. 
    “For two weeks we were helping our customers, our dealerships, everybody that walked through the door, but we had no money to operate on,” explained Werlinger. 
    They didn’t have the ability to check the numbers to ensure they balanced out, so they were essentially operating in the dark. 
    Each transaction, or ‘cart’, made it impossible for them to clear out financial discrepancies and mysterious double charges.  Once the cart was closed, there was no changing it.
    Several car dealerships they work with shared with the Goplen’s crew that the state told them not to deal with privately owned deputy registrars because they supposedly did not possess the intelligence to handle the new system and to mail the paperwork directly to the state.
    “I’ve heard that from four or five different dealers. We know what we are doing, more than the state does. We don’t get paid unless we process transactions. We don’t ever want a customer to walk out without being helped. It’s disheartening to hear that the state is throwing us under the bus when we are trying our hardest and trying our best,” said Werlinger.
    There also hasn’t been a fee increase in seven years. The fees can only be set by the state and with increased overhead, smaller offices are losing money and may be threatened some to shut down completely.
    “Our paper usage has gone up tremendously with this new system,” said Geisenhof.
    It took them a month to catch up on all of the reports. 
    “The staff we have here has gone above and beyond,” shared Werlinger.
    They are always one of the top offices in the state for the error rate, meaning the least errors.
    “They supposedly tested this system in 62 markets. This came from the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association. They were told to give it a grade. They gave it an ‘F’ and still launched it,” said Werlinger.
    “Dealers are instructed to give out as many 21 day permits as they need to when they used to only be able to give them one,” he said.
    They did webinars on the MNLARS system for months to learn it. But those also had issues.
    “They told us to click on the next button, and nothing was there,” explained Werlinger. “The training continued, but that screen wasn’t in the system, so how could we train on it? Those issues were still there two days before they launched the system.”
    The system was also adding $2 late fees to their title transfers because they were not able to process them. The deputy registrars cannot override the fee, but the state claims they can if it's sent directly to them. 
    “Overall, our customers have been understanding. But to turn one away because we can’t help them is horrible,” said Geisenhof.
    “Our customer service is through the roof and we are recognized for that. We have customers coming from St. Cloud, Mora, Monticello, who come here to do work with us,” said Werlinger. 
    “The customers here are learning to wait because they’ve never had to before,” said Geisenhof.
    They also cannot let customers leave until all of the documentation is completely filled out in the system. The employee cannot leave the screen they are on and open a new one otherwise they will have to start the entire application over on the computer. 
    “Before if you had your renewal slip for tabs, you would hand it to us, we’d grab the stickers and staple them to it and you would hand us the check. We’d say ‘thank you’ and you would be on your way. We’d complete the information in our down time. Now it all has to be done while you’re standing there,” explained Werlinger. 
    The license plates and tabs have their own issues in the system. When MNLARS rolled out, they had to take inventory of their supplies and input them into the system. They receive 2997 regular license plates at a time and roughly 200 tabs per roll.
    “That’s just passenger plates. We also have 30 other types of plates,” said Geisenhof.
    She went through the painstaking task of writing down all of the plate numbers in inventory to put into the system. They had to be input by class and be verified. 
    “We have a large stack of plates that said they are not in our system that we put in,” she added.
    They have to pay $35 for every tab that goes “missing” even though they are there and not showing up in the system.
    The car dealerships have a version of the MNLARS system. Previously, they could look up the cost of registration and other information. Now they can’t see most of the information they previously had access to.
    “In 22 years we’ve never had an issue. We’ve always balanced every day completed work and never had to have overtime,” said Werlinger. 
    There is approximately up to 70 errors that they have discovered in the system, so far. Normally they could do 40 renewals an hour, and that process has slowed as well.
    “We appreciate their patience. Please keep coming back to our office. We’re only dealing with what we’re handed with the system and we don’t want to lose any customers because of the system,” said Werlinger.
    With the two added employees, they now have eight full and part-time employees. Due to the extra help, over time, increased overhead and unprocessed transactions it has already cost them about $20,000 in the last month. 
    They have banded together with other offices to share problems and information. 
    “Law enforcement has been notified to be lenient because people can’t get their stickers,” said Werlinger.
    “Whoever designed the program did not have any clue about the program,” said Werlinger, frustrated with the new system.

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