address change. They may have moved a couple of years ago, but never felt like going into an office to change it."

Quick Results

Rapid user acceptance of Arizonas address-change application is typical of many online offerings. Agencies say citizens often flock to online motor vehicle services once they become available.

For instance, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles processed fewer than 300 online registration renewals in January, the first month of operation for its system, said spokesman Bob Sanchez. In April, the number of monthly transactions surpassed 6,000. Likewise, Michigan saw its yearly total for online registration renewals grow from 69,229 transactions in fiscal 1999 to nearly 148,000 in fiscal 2000, according to AAMVA data.

The interactive nature of online services, many of which include e-mail feedback options and electronic survey forms, also means agencies quickly hear what citizens like and dislike about new offerings. "In 30 days you know what the acceptance is because you see the usage and you see the comments coming in," said Berton.

Martucci said Arizona currently is fine-tuning its address-change application based on user comments. Designing the system was complicated by the fact that Arizona drivers may have a residential address, a mailing address and an address where their vehicle is stored, she said. "We felt there would be some confusion when we put the address change out, but we didnt know how to change it. Feedback from customers gave us insight into what changes to make."

And for motor vehicle agencies, better known for generating customer complaints than praise, the strongly positive response to online transactions is a breath of fresh air. "[Users] just cant believe that a government agency would be so forward thinking," said Martucci, noting that online user surveys show a 99.5-percent approval rating for her departments Web services.

Boosting Business

With current online customers satisfied, motor vehicle agencies are now attempting to draw more citizens to their sites. Some have turned up the volume on promotional efforts or cut the cost of Web transactions.

In Massachusetts, an advertising blitz that began late last year has helped push the states total online motor vehicle transactions to nearly 50,000 per month. "We did a campaign where we put posters in the subway. We also handed out leaflets at one of the toll bridges," said Larry McConnell, CIO for the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles. "Almost everything we push out of our building has the URL on it."

Additional charges for online transactions - sometimes called convenience fees - also appear to be losing favor. A growing number of motor vehicle officials say the fees discourage use of Web applications and contradict the message that electronic services boost government efficiency.

Arizonas Motor Vehicle Division eliminated a $6.95 convenience fee on registration renewals in 1998 and saw its number of monthly transactions grow from 5,000 to 13,000, Martucci said. Under legislation passed this year, the state also will drop a $2 convenience fee for duplicate drivers licenses purchased online. Florida is following suit, according to Sanchez. This summer the state eliminated a $3 convenience fee charged for online registration renewals.

Several other states offer citizens discounts on Web transactions. Massachusetts has given drivers a $5 discount for renewing vehicle registrations online since opening its Web service in 1996. Virginia took the same approach when it began offering online drivers license renewals in late 1999, giving citizens a $1 break for using the Web service.

The move to eliminate extra charges on Web transactions also extends to credit card fees. Virginia and Massachusetts have long absorbed the processing fee charged by credit card providers when citizens pay with plastic. And other agencies that currently pass on those fees to citizens are now seeking ways to pick up the tab themselves, according to Accentures Berton.

Steve Towns, Editor Steve Towns  | 

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.