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Greenville News,
Posted Sunday, September 9, 2001 - 12:53 am

  Bob Peeler is the lieutenant governor of South Carolina. He is the first Republican elected to the office since Reconstruction. A small businessman born and raised in Gaffney, he and his family now reside in Lexington.

Motorists can't wait any longer for DMV reform
By Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler

These days the DMV seems a lot more like the DMZ. A trip to get a license renewed should not leave the customer feeling like the enemy in the midst of a hostile standoff. However, too often, it does.

When Jim Hodges became governor, he pledged to fix problems at the DMV and make it more customer-friendly. He toured the state and spent time behind the counters at local DMV offices. He pledged to make DMV more "productive, efficient, and pleasant."

Since that time, however, the governor has failed to implement any substantive reform recommendations. Instead, he proposed cutting the DMV state budget by 15 percent this past year. Were it not for state lawmakers who restored half of the Hodges cuts, DMV would be in worse shape than it is today.

This year, DMV locations are reporting wait times in excess of three hours. And according to the DMV's own Web site, the average downtime per equipment failure is 11.57 hours with over 22 equipment failures per office, per month. Once you do the math, the result is alarming: something is broken at your DMV more than every hour of every day.

It's one thing for a governor to claim a focus on education, but when that focus becomes tunnel vision, other state priorities tend to blur into one big mess. And under Jim Hodges' watch, that's exactly what's happened at the DMV.

Make no mistake, DMV needs reform. The best way to bring about that reform is not to raise taxes or increase fees, but to change the culture of DMV by reducing the number of people who actually have to go there.

Here in South Carolina, Gov. Beasley started a mail-in license renewal plan based on recommendations from a performance review I chaired. The Hodges administration, however, has failed to effectively build upon this program.

Other states are way ahead of us. In Florida, citizens can renew their driver's licenses online and never set foot in a DMV office. In Colorado, taxpayers can renew their license by fax. States like California have instituted 1-800 numbers so that motorists can renew their licenses over the phone. In Texas, they expect 15 percent of all drivers' license renewals to occur online or via phone by the end of the year. And again, in Florida, officials expect 44 percent of their renewals to be conducted by mail, phone or Internet.

The governor's DMV officials talk about "Project Phoenix" and getting to some of these reforms later, but South Carolinians simply cannot afford to wait any longer for DMV to rise out of the ashes.

As a result, next year I will propose legislation to create a Rapid Renewal DMV Service a proposal that will mandate immediate action at DMV. By adding cutting-edge online services, a 1-800 license renewal number, and utilizing mail-in registration to full advantage, we can make trips to the DMV a choice instead of an obligation. We can renew licenses online, instead of in lines.

For those who still have to do business at the local DMV, we can make lines a thing of the past by implementing a "take a number" system in every office statewide. This is already in effect in six offices, but it's time to put it in every location and end lines in DMV once and for all. No more standing around in winding stalls. If you wait, you sit.

We'll also seek to alter DMV hours of operation for early morning, evening, and perhaps weekend hours. Just like a business, the DMV should keep hours and set priorities that meet the needs of customers, not the other way around.

In Florida, DMV offices are open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. Individuals can actually schedule appointments and avoid waiting altogether. If restaurants and retailers can customize their hours to fit customers, the South Carolina DMV ought to be able to as well.

Lastly, we'll draft legislation to create a DMV Better Business Fund in order to refund fees for any South Carolinian waiting longer than 30 minutes to get their license renewed.

Attorney General Condon and others have talked about this concept and it's a good idea that needs to be a reality. Just like a business, the DMV needs to offer a money-back guarantee when the service they offer isn't delivered right.

If DMV does a good job, it won't take much out of their existing budget. And if DMV doesn't do a good job, it will. Either way, this creates a climate that perpetuates performance and accountability.

Next session, I will join legislators to unveil a comprehensive DMV reform package. Our focus will be simple: rapid renewal service, the elimination of lines, convenient hours, and your money back if you wait too long. That's what South Carolinians deserve. And that's what it's time to give them.