Of all government agencies, perhaps the easiest target for citizen complaints is the Department of Motor Vehicles. One mention of a license or registration renewal invokes thoughts of endless lines and wasted time.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) is looking to change that attitude and improve customer service at the same time. The RMV started its Internet presence in April 1996 with general information. In August, it launched what has been called the first online interactive motor vehicles application in the country .

The site now includes an "express lane," which gives citizens the ability to renew registrations, apply for duplicate registrations and pay civil motor vehicle citations using a credit card and a secure Web browser.

According to Registrar of Motor Vehicles Jerold Gnazzo, the Internet site is a step toward better customer service. "Our counterparts in motor vehicle agencies across the country have become very customer-driven. We have 6 million citizens that do over 8.5 million transactions per year. That means they have to come and see us nearly 1.5 times per year, whether they want to or not. We're going to use technology to reduce that number and make it easier for citizens."

Some argue using the Internet for transactions that require both personal and financial information is too risky. "There are those that hold up technology to slow down progress. We are very concerned with the privacy of individual information and fight to safeguard it, but at the same time I think it is important that we make use of technology if it means better service," Gnazzo said.

Users of the RMV Web site are cautioned on the home page that their browser must support SSL (Secure Socket Layer) transactions. A link

is provided to Netscape Communication's home page to download a copy of Netscape Navigator 2.1 or higher. Citizens browsing the RMV page on the Commonwealth MAGnet server are redirected to a server at BBN Planet , the Cambridge, Mass., Internet Service Provider that also hosts the Commonwealth's MAGnet site , to complete the transaction. The transaction is validated, entered into a secure log file, and the customer receives an acknowledgment with a transaction number and is free to continue browsing. As citizens go about their business, the BBN server sends the transaction to the RMV gateway via encrypted e-mail, where the transaction is entered into the RMV mainframe, processed, acknowledged and each customer is sent a confirming e-mail to complete the transaction.

No enabling legislation was required to start up the system. According to Gnazzo, "As you can imagine, there has been a lot of interest in the system. The first question nearly everyone asks is about the credit card. We had passed the legislation allowing us to accept credit card transactions via our call center two years ago." BBN receives a small transaction fee for the service as do the credit card companies. The fees for online users are still cheaper than going to the registry offices in person. A registration renewal done online is directed to deduct $5.00 from the fee.

According to public relations director, Aubrey Haznar, site usage has grown steadily. "We started out with about 1,000 users the first month and have risen to over 2,500 per month in just a couple of months -- and that is with no promotion. We're keeping hundreds of customers out of the office."

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has started what no doubt will be an exciting new trend in government service delivery. As secure transactions become more the norm than the exception, citizens will begin to demand the convenience of doing business online. It seems only fitting that a motor vehicles agency was first.

Michael Nevins is a co-founder and director of State Technologies Inc., a nonprofit research group. State Technologies publishes the Web service Government On Line: .

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