Web could ease wait in line

Massachusetts is making it possible for people to find out how long of a wait awaits them at any Registry for Motor Vehicles branch across the state before even leaving home or the office.

The state's new service enables customers to check on the wait times for licensing or registration at any RMV branch office by clicking on the name of the office at www.state.ma.us/rmv/branches. The information is updated every two minutes.

"I am an absolute advocate of anything the government can do to get more services online. It makes government more accountable to and convenient for citizens," said Daniel Grabauskas, registrar of motor vehicles for Massachusetts. "But nevertheless, there are still things, the most obvious of which is a license renewal, which you still need to show up in person to complete."

For example, getting a new picture or taking an eye exam for a driver's license requires an in-person appearance. "And although I have heard a little here and there about experimenting with doing those things online, the technology is not there yet," he said.

The online system follows the example of the deli-style ticketing system being used at all of the state's registry branches. Customers get a ticket with a wait time that is calculated based on the number of people waiting for service and the number of employees working.

The site essentially brings that information to the Web, but expands on it by providing page links to the three nearest alternate branches where the same transaction can be performed, enabling people to make an educated decision about where to go.

"Rather than have someone walk in to a registry branch, look around and say, "Oh God, look at how many people there are here' and turn around and walk away, they can know this ahead of time," Grabauskas said. "My goal is that this service will be able to help people self-select first to see if you're going to have the time to wait, and then, perhaps shop around as to where best to conduct this transaction."

Massachusetts is the second state behind Virginia to offer wait times on the Web, officials say, and is the first to offer wait times via Web-enabled cell phones or personal digital assistants.

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