Jack Kramer/CTNewsJunkie photo
AAA Northeast’s Branford office (Jack Kramer/CTNewsJunkie photo)

Drivers in New Haven and Fairfield counties no longer have the option of using their local AAA offices to renew their driver licenses as an alternative to long lines at Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) branch offices.

The motor club has eight offices in Branford, Danbury, Fairfield, Hamden, Milford, Norwalk, Stamford, and Waterbury.Those offices are no longer doing license renewals for either members – or non-members.

DMV said it could not reach an agreement with the AAA franchise serving Fairfield and New Haven counties to continue licensing and ID card renewal services after Dec. 31, 2016.

The agency had been in talks with this franchise after it notified DMV it would stop serving the general public and serve members only beginning in 2017. The impasse was announced by DMV Commissioner Michael Bzdyra.

“The Department’s responsibility is first and foremost to the general public. We need to maintain service levels while controlling costs,” Bzdyra said. “As such, we cannot subsidize a private organization’s provision of DMV services if that organization is not willing to find ways to serve the general public.”

“We hope this AAA franchise will re-consider our proposals, which we feel were fair and workable. In light of this development, we will begin exploring other avenues to maintain access to services for the people of Connecticut,” continued Bzdyra.

The franchise, known as AAA Northeast, provided DMV licensing and ID card renewal services to the entire general public, but had sought to offer them only to its paying members beginning in January. The franchise started in 2001 offering these services to the general public.

“Contract negotiations with the state just didn’t work out,” Fran Mayko, AAA Northeast’s spokeswoman on Thursday, said. “We made a final offer and despite our best efforts we couldn’t get a deal done.”

Mayko said one of the biggest sticking points with AAA Northeast is that company executives believe that the licensing program is a benefit that should be for members of AAA only, and not for anyone who walks into an AAA Northeast office.

“We did 160,000 transactions last year,” said Mayko, stating the licensing responsibility had become too much of a work burden for the costs and time involved for AAA Northeast.

Jack Kramer/CTNewsJunkie photo

She did add, however: “The door is always open to pick-up discussions. We could be talking with the state again about this sometime in 2017.”

DMV Chief of Staff William Seymour on Thursday said there are no more discussions.

“The department is focused on maintaining service levels while controlling costs. As such, we cannot subsidize a private organization’s provision of DMV services if that organization is not willing to find ways to serve the general public,” Seymour said

Seymour said AAA made its final offer prior to the expiration of the contract and discussions with the motor club have ended. The DMV’s licensing equipment is being moved out of the offices.

“The offer failed to cover all the costs that are paid by taxpayers,” Seymour said. “AAA reiterated that it was a final offer several times including in emails, through company officials and directly to the state. We believed what was said to us.”

Drivers are still showing up daily expecting to renew their licenses, but a sign on the door tells them where the DMV offices are for those services. None of the drivers who showed up at AAA’s Branford office Thursday would comment on the change.

The remainder of Connecticut is served by AAA Club Alliance, with local headquarters in West Hartford, and it will continue to provide services to all members of the general public throughout its eight offices around the state (Avon, Cromwell, Enfield, Manchester, Old Saybrook, Plainville, Waterford and West Hartford), according to Karen Christiana, general manager of AAA Club Alliance.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, sent a letter to Bzydra Friday asking him to quickly find a private vendor for licensing services.

“I am sure that you can imagine that the loss of these services performed by AAA Northeast is an important issue for the Connecticut residents that I represent,” Duff wrote. “I would urge you and the Department of Motor Vehicles to quickly find a new private vendor to take over the providing of these services in order to disrupt licensing in the affected areas as little as possible.”

In October the DMV served AAA Northeast with a notice of default after it abruptly stopped serving members of the general public in violation of a contract with DMV.

The motor club revised its position and agreed to continue providing licensing services to the general public through the end of the year.

AAA Northeast continued licensing non-members through the end of 2016 after Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy threatened legal action against it for failing to uphold a 60-day termination provision. The motor club said the increase in the number of public customers has harmed it ability to service its dues -paying members.

AAA Northeast saw a spike in usage of its licensing services by the public last year when the Department of Motor Vehicles struggled with a computer upgrade that caused wait times to increase significantly at its offices.

When it announced it was ending the contract, AAA Northeast said it was necessary because the number of office transactions has nearly doubled and the number of non-member transactions has increased from 17 percent five years ago to almost 50 percent in 2016.

It said the Real ID program – a federally secure licensing requirement mandated by the Department of Homeland Security – has added as much as 50 percent to the time needed to complete the transactions. Coupled with the DMV’s computer woes, it created a situation that adversely affected the ability of AAA to deliver the high levels of service that our members have come to expect.