Minnesotas motor vehicle agency charges credit card users a 1.9-percent processing fee, but it also offers a popular Automated Clearing House (ACH) option that eliminates the surcharge by electronically deducting funds from a customers checking account, said Becky Mechtel, communications coordinator for the Driver and Vehicle Services Division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Of 66,000 Internet vehicle registration renewals processed by the agency since last October, more than half were paid using the ACH method, Mechtel said.

ACH users must provide the agency with checking account information similar to the data required for initiating direct payroll deposit with an employer. The agency deals directly with the customers bank to complete the transaction, avoiding processing fees. However, the option does carry a risk of bounced checks or incorrectly entered account information, said Mechtel. Therefore, the agency delays mailing of license tags for several days in ACH transactions to allow payment to clear.

Although incorrect checking account information may be somewhat more common with Web transactions than mailed renewals, neither bounced checks nor bad account data have been a serious problem for the agency, Mechtel said. And all license tags purchased online reach citizens within 10 days, regardless of the payment method they choose, she added.

Still to Come

If motor vehicle agencies have been quick to Web-enable basic transactions, theyve moved more slowly on services that demand deeper integration. Berton said most agencies have yet to tightly weave Web services into existing business processes. Accentures study said the introduction of services that automatically e-mail citizens when vehicle registrations or drivers licenses must be renewed will be one sign of maturing electronic vehicle services.

Berton acknowledged that some motor vehicle transactions - particularly those requiring vision tests or specific forms of identification - are a long way from moving completely online. But even those tasks may benefit from a hybrid approach. For example, citizens may one day complete the paperwork for complex transactions online, then travel to the local motor vehicle office to be photographed or to present the identification needed to complete the task, according to Berton.

Jurisdictions also are considering alternative methods for conducting vision tests. "Theyre saying, Why not have optometrists do that? Why do people need to come to some central location, when youve got a whole network of providers that you can leverage?" Berton said.

New Mexicos Motor Vehicle Division hopes to solve the vision test issue by allowing citizens to test themselves on a home PC. The agency is piloting PC-based vision testing software in several of its field offices, and it eventually intends to offer an official version of the test online, said Paul Mann, the agencys information services manager.

Citizens can sample the online test at the agencys Web site . Currently the online test, developed by VisionRx, is informational only, but it does give users an idea of how well theyll perform on the departments official test. Besides the standard measure of visual acuity, the application tests visual fields, color vision and contrast sensitivity.

Efforts like these may signal that motor vehicle agencies are poised to tackle more complex undertakings.

"I think theyve been very smart. Agencies are picking the low-hanging fruit first, and some of the more difficult transactions - those that require more end-to-end integration - are yet to come," Berton said. "Its kind of liking putting your toe in the water. These agencies are getting very confident and they are ready to move on."

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.