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Column: MNLARS' failures are unacceptable

By Mike Goggin, Minnesota State Senate District 21

In the past, getting a vehicle title or new license plates was a minor hassle, but customers could generally count on the process running smoothly. That is no longer the case, thanks to the new Minnesota License and Registration System. Now we can only count on delays and frustration.

What is MNLARS? Simply, it's our new system rolled out this past July to handle things like vehicle licenses and title transfers. It had been in development — mostly by MNIT, the state's technology agency — for nearly a decade at a cost of more than $90 million.

Somehow 10 years of development was not enough to guarantee a functional system, because MNLARS has been dogged by problems from the very beginning: the system is frequently down, it is unable to process even the simplest transactions, and it is causing independent deputy registrars to burn through their overtime budgets trying to find workarounds to the system — workarounds for which they are not compensated.

This is to say nothing of the human impact. Staff have walked out or been hospitalized due to the stress. Police have been called to mediate disputes among aggravated customers who are stuck in lines out the door. And regular, hardworking men and women are being forced to wait an absurd amount of time for the most basic transactions.

I have received more email and phone calls about MNLARS than perhaps any other issue, especially since the system was unveiled. The comments are all in the same vein:

"I've been waiting for my title for months. This is ridiculous."

"Is the developer of this system the same as MNsure?"

"I still haven't received plates for my vehicle that I bought in July."

The stories go on and on and on, and they are all troubling.

Recently the Senate Transportation Committee held an emergency oversight hearing about MNLARS' failures and to hear from the consumers who have been directly impacted. What we found was staggering. As an example, we heard testimony that there are 300,000 vehicle titles in backlog. For comparison, around 5,000 are processed on a typical day.

The warning signs were there all along, which makes MNLARS' issues all the more exasperating. Prior to the launch of MNLARS, The Legislative Auditor wrote the following:

"Long delays in the development process and vague communication, particularly about timelines, have eroded confidence in the project. We cannot determine whether MNLARS will fulfill its intended objectives, effectively serve the public, or meet the expectations of other stakeholders."

It is unacceptable that after 10 years and $90 million spent, all Minnesotans have to show for it is a system that doesn't work and is, at best, being patched with temporary fixes. It's also unacceptable that five months after MNLARS was released, these problems have still not been corrected.

You deserve better, and I will keep pressing the governor's administration for answers until every problem with MNLARS has been resolved.

Mike Goggin, R-Red Wing, can be reached at sen.mike.goggin@senate.mn or 651-296-4264.

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