Mass. gets serious about 'online, not in line'

Massachusetts is making it possible for people to find out how long they can expect to wait in line at a Registry of Motor Vehicles branch before they head there.

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

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

"I am an absolute advocate of anything the government can do to get more services online," said Daniel Grabauskas, registrar of motor vehicles for Massachusetts. "It makes government more accountable to and convenient for citizens. 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 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 system brings that information to the Web and expands on it with page links to the three nearest branches where the same transaction canbe performed, enabling people to make an educated decision about where to go.

"Rather than have someone walk in to a registry branch, look aroundand 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."

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