The Bureau of Motor Vehicles is implementing several changes to automate processes and help address insurance and car registration concerns in the territory during the global pandemic, the bureau’s Director Barbara Jackson-McIntosh told senators Thursday.
At a Finance Committee hearing, Jackson-McIntosh said 5,791 customers have been serviced since the launch of the online services portal on the bureau’s website around five months ago. The site is currently down due to a server issue, but will be back up, she said, and come Sept. 30 several additional services will be added that will allow for online driver’s license renewals, disability placards, identification cards and more.
“The website is not the issue … the problem people are encountering is not a result of the website. It would say ‘BMV cannot verify,’ which means that the vehicle you are trying to register is not under your profile,” Jackson-McIntosh said. This is happening as a result of the bureau’s automation attempts. Jackson-McIntosh said the bureau originally had two systems, a vehicle system and a registration system. “What we did is we merged them together, so sometimes the vehicle may not be under your profile. So, once you contact us, we put it under your profile, and that fixes it.”
The online services currently being offered include car registrations, which, because of the COVID-19 outbreak, have become backlogged. Though the server issue is making it impossible for residents to access the site, additional variables are compounding the problem, such as the lack of a link between the bureau and car insurance companies to verify insurance before registration can be issued. Jackson-McIntosh said it’s a problem the bureau is working intently on.
Right now, when registration fees are paid to the bureau, which typically can be done online, the customer must call their car insurance companies and ask them to submit an email to the bureau that verifies coverage. But soon, this process will become a thing of the past. Jackson-McIntosh said the bureau is working with one insurance company now to link their database to that of the bureau, and the bureau hopes to integrate more insurance companies as the year progresses.
While this will help one aspect of registration, committee members revealed Thursday that several of their constituents have called their offices to complain about the registration backlog. Many of the complaints have come from rental and shipping companies, which cannot rent out vehicles or deliver goods without up-to-date registration.
Jackson-McIntosh said the bureau has implemented scheduled appointments with residents and has caught up on many of the backlogged car registrations. Currently, there is a two-day turnaround on St. Thomas, and registration is being handled within a day on St. Croix.
Jackson-McIntosh said she has spoken with the Virgin Islands Police Department and asked them to honor receipts as proof of payment for registration in the event registration stickers are delayed in the mail.
Jackson-McIntosh advised residents who need the bureau’s services to email them. The bureau has one person dedicated to handling all emails who usually responds within 24 hours.
The bureau has also made appointments mandatory to ensure the safety of residents who were formerly waiting for service in close proximity under a canopy on the outside of the building on St. Thomas.
Separately, Jackson-McIntosh addressed the issue of the bureau’s phone, which was down for a month on St. Croix. She said this was a Viya issue and the telecommunications company had to reprogram the bureau’s digital converter box.
The bureau functions with its 53 filled positions but is hoping to fill four vacancies by the end of September 2020, which will go a long way to help the bureau get up to date with fee collections and license renewals, Jackson-McIntosh said.
For FY 2021, the recommended General Fund appropriation is $2.2 million, which Jackson-McIntosh said will be used for personnel services.
Sens. Janelle Sarauw, Kurt Vialet, Marvin Blyden, Allison DeGazon, Oakland Benta and Dwayne DeGraff were present for the Finance hearing. Donna Frett-Gregory was absent.