It was the absence of a line outside the Department of Motor Vehicles which Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration sought to emphasize during a press conference Tuesday, a traditionally busy day for the agency.
Lamont, who is seeking re-election this year, staged a press conference outside the department’s headquarters in Wethersfield to tout his administration’s efforts to make the agency, notorious for its bureaucracy, more user-friendly.
During the event, one of his deputy commissioners, Tony Guerrera, drew attention to what was not present outside the imposing brick building. There was no line of residents, their ranks reinforced by a three-day holiday weekend, waiting to renew their driver’s licenses or register a vehicle.
“I want you to take a look at this,” Guerrera, a former legislator, gestured at the sidewalk. “‘Cause usually the day after Memorial Day — three years ago when the commissioner and I were in that office staring at a line of people down to the parking lot. That has not happened today.”
Instead, residents drifted by in small numbers, many slowing to eye the news event. The administration chalked that fact up to its efforts to allow residents to complete more DMV transactions online rather than make the trek to a state building.
DMV Commissioner Sibongile “Bongi” Magubane said her agency had moved 20 transactions online and reduced wait times to less than 20 minutes in most cases. According to the administration, some 750,000 transactions have been completed online since 2019.
Lamont said the often maligned agency maintains a kind symbolic quality as a point in which many residents interface with state government. It’s sometimes the first department with which people must interact as teenagers, he said. License and registration renewals necessitate repeat visits every few years.
“It can be burdensome,” Lamont said. “For me, to make DMV one of our showcases in terms of how we can slowly transform government, make sure it’s more customer friendly and make sure you have a sense that we’re making progress was symbolically very important and very important to a lot of people who saved hours.”
Mark Raymond, the administration’s chief information officer, called the efforts to digitize DMV services a “forerunner.” He said the state was in the process of modernizing other types transactions including the ability to process unemployment claims at the Department of Labor.
Lamont said the long-planned changes were delayed by the onslaught of new unemployment claims brought on by the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was very manual, very labor intensive, very people intensive and we were not able to keep up with the load of unemployment claims the likes of which we hadn’t seen since the Great Depression,” Lamont said. “Now we’ll be much better able to do that.”