Baker visits Haymarket RMV to highlight reduced wait times

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BOSTON — The mellow computerized voice interrupted the governor a few times each minute, alerting customers that it was their turn to take care of a transaction at the customer service window.

“Now serving C111 at counter number 18,” the voice said, just as Gov. Charlie Baker was making a point about his administration’s war on wait times at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

“Do any of you have that number?” the governor asked the press corps that had assembled as a normal day at the Registry of Motor Vehicles Haymarket branch proceeded all around.

Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack and Registrar Erin Deveney visited the branch Monday to highlight a change: customers don’t have to wait as long to conduct business at RMV branches. Baker also set a lofty goal for the next year.

In November 2015, 74 percent of RMV branch customers were served in under 30 minutes, up from 59 percent during the same month in 2014, Baker said. The goal for 2016, the governor said, is to have 90 percent of all RMV customer transactions completed in half an hour or less, and to have 100 percent of transactions completed in less than an hour.

“The Registry of Motor Vehicles services over 3 million residents of the commonwealth each year and we recognize that we have an obligation to do that job, quite frankly, just a little bit better,” Deveney said. “So over the last nine months or so, we’ve been working to find new and different ways that we can get our customers in and out the door faster and give them a more professional level of customer service.”

Among the new methods adopted by the RMV are a two-line system. Customers who have everything necessary to complete their transaction wait in one line and those who need additional assistance wait in a separate line. The RMV has also worked to make sure customers whose transactions can be completed online or at a self-serve kiosk use those methods, rather than growing the waiting lines.

And borrowing an idea from Apple, Baker said, RMV branches now have a worker positioned at the front door to point customers in the right direction and make sure they have everything they’ll need to complete their transaction.

The improvements, Pollack said, are especially important because the RMV is the “face of state government” for many Massachusetts residents.

“Not just in Massachusetts but across the country, the registry is sort of the butt of cultural jokes. I was actually at the movies this weekend and saw a trailer for an animated film which featured a group of sloths as the clerks at an animal-run registry of motor vehicles,” she said. “We all know the registry is the place we make fun of and hate to go, but that’s not good enough for us. The registry actually needs to be a place where people see that state government cares about them, that customer service matters and that you can actually plan to take your lunch break and get in and out of a registry.”

When Baker was sworn in in January, he mentioned only one transportation issue in his inaugural address: wait times at the RMV. Now, almost a year later, he said his administration’s work to address that issue is a sign that he is taking a new approach to making government work for citizens.

“This, to me, was a great example of an opportunity to send a big message to people that we were going to think differently about the way state government operated and that we were going to do everything we could, working with our folks in the registry, to come up with a solution that would put customers first,” Baker said.

Referring in his inaugural address to the late Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s belief “that basic services mattered and that every detail counted,” Baker said that people “are not being served” when they “have to wait for hours to conduct a simple transaction” at the RMV.

In the next breath, he mentioned those who “continue to be confused and let down by the Health Connector” as evidence that “we’ve not paid attention to the details.”

Baker has previously cited fixing the Health Connector — which is about two months into an open enrollment period that has gone smoothly so far — as a point of pride during his first year in office.

But Democrats, eager to throw cold water on the image of the Republican governor as a “Mr. Fix-It,” heralded a recent Boston Globe column that instead declared Baker “Mr. Nix-It.”

“Democrats brought Massachusetts back into the leadership business with a bold agenda, but unfortunately, Republican Gov. Baker’s status-quo approach is now jeopardizing our ability to remain at the forefront of innovation and job creation,” Democratic Party spokesman Pat Beaudry said in a statement Monday.

The “Mr. Nix-It” moniker is apt, the Democratic Party said, because of Baker’s “canceling, rather than fixing, projects important for the state’s future,” including late-night MBTA service, the expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, and the possible cancellation of the Green Line Extension project.

— Written by Colin A. Young

Copyright State House News Service