A new Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration computer system designed to make obtaining or renewing a driver's license more streamlined and secure has instead caused long lines and waits of up to three hours for customers at the agency's Waldorf office, customers and MVA officials said.
"It's pretty frustrating," said Patsy Burroughs of Lusby, as she took a needed cigarette break Friday afternoon outside the Waldorf MVA office on Industrial Drive. The wait for her 20-year-old son to get his license neared two hours.
"I have other things to do," said Burroughs, 42. "I didn't expect to be here this long."
Several others echoed her concerns in interviews Friday. MVA officials blamed the wait in part on glitches in a new $40 million computer system that has been set up at the Waldorf office since Feb. 11 to test on real customers before it was deployed across the state.
Customers and employees are still getting used to the system, said Cheron Wicker, an MVA spokeswoman.
"This is a normal thing that you would expect would come with a change as significant as the one we have introduced," Wicker said. "The technology is a part of it, though that certainly isn't all of it."
MVA officials had promised the computer system would deliver "one-stop shopping," meaning customers would not have to shuffle between multiple counters. The new system also is paperless; customers now enter personal details, such as their Social Security number, into a computer.
The information is checked and verified with state and federal databases, providing an extra firewall against identity theft and fraud, MVA officials said.
A newly designed driver's license, featuring a picture of the Maryland blue crab and additional security features, also is being issued at the Waldorf office, officials said.
But on Friday, computer glitches had caused such a bottleneck that some customers were directed to separate driver's license registration desks, where clerks processed their applications under the old system. Those drivers received the old-style licenses, rather than the new, security-enhanced design.
An MVA employee trying to answer customers' questions about the long wait Friday blamed computer problems. "We sometimes need to work the bugs out of it," she told one group of restless customers. She declined to give her name to a reporter who asked about the incident later.
Another employee who spoke on condition of anonymity said the new computer system is slow and erratic.
The employee said the computers, which ask customers several questions, such as whether they are organ donors, move from question to question extremely slowly. Sometimes, the employee said, information is lost, and the process has to be started again.
"Not only is it wasting time, it is also wasting money" in terms of overtime pay, the employee said.
Wicker said it now takes the average customer about an hour to get a license, up from 37 minutes under the old paperwork system.
Wicker said she did not know precisely what is wrong with the system, though the glitches have persisted for more than a month. The system had been designed and tested for more than three years before it came to Waldorf. But, Wicker said, it had yet to be tested "in a real-time environment."
She said technology experts from Compaq, the Texas-based computer giant that designed the new system, were trying to correct problems. She said it would not be deployed statewide until the glitches were eliminated in Waldorf.
Waldorf was chosen as the launch site, Wicker said, "because it is considered a moderate to large-sized office where they perform a variety of services."
The office also was chosen because of its reputation for quick service, officials said. Many of the customers interviewed Friday said they were from other counties. The measures taken Friday to speed up the process in Waldorf, such as directing some customers to the old paperwork system, seemed to help.
Walter Dyson, 20, said he had angrily walked out of the MVA office Thursday without a new driver's license after waiting for almost three hours. "I just got tired of it," he said. But on Friday, Dyson, of Bryans Road, said he was in and out in 20 minutes.
Daymeoin Harris, 28, of Waldorf said he waited with his mother for three hours in February when she tried to get a license just after the new system was instituted. On Friday, when he was there to renew his own license, it took an hour.
It was still more than the 20 minutes he said it normally takes. But the extra security features are worth the wait, he said.
"If you have to wait longer to prevent fraud, it's still a plus," Harris said.