Virginia to Charge Fee for Renewing Registrations at DMVs

March 7, 2008

If you’ve ever said you’d give $5 to avoid the lines at the DMV, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is.

The Senate voted 35 to four Wednesday to charge those who go into a Department of Motor Vehicles customer service center to renew their vehicle registration $5 more than those completing the transaction online, over the phone or by mail. The House passed the measure 91 to eight earlier this week.

Drivers could get a $1 discount for renewing their registration online and another $1 discount for renewing it for more than one year at a time. The fee would not be charged if the individual also must conduct a transaction that can’t be done by mail, telephone or online.

The bill also would extend the term of a driver’s license from five to eight years. The cost – $4 per year – would remain the same.

The goal is to decrease the traffic in the DMV’s 74 customer services center, said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover.

“Everybody knows that if you go to a DMV and wait a long time in line it can be extremely frustrating,” McDougle said. “DMV has taken some steps to try to alleviate that, but this will actually be a substantial change in the way we do business.”

Every vehicle, motorcycle or trailer on Virginia’s roadways must be registered. The fees are determined by the vehicle’s weight and range from $18 to $50 annually.

The majority of Virginia drivers already are renewing their registrations online. From July 2005 through June 2006, the latest data available, only 35 percent of the 5.2 million renewals were done at a customer service center, DMV spokeswoman Melanie Stokes said.

Stokes said it’s such a routine transaction that it’s easier to do it in other ways instead of fighting the lines at the DMV.

The average wait time in Virginia’s DMV centers in January was slightly longer than 18 minutes, down from about 23 minutes in January 2007, Stokes said.

DMV officials predict wait times will increase about 200 percent with the implementation of the federal Real ID Act beginning in December 2009.

The act, which Congress passed in 2005 in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, requires states to link their record-keeping systems to national databases to create a national ID card. The ID will be required of anyone wishing to enter a federal building or board an airplane.

All those under age 50 must have the ID by 2014, and those older than 50 have until December 2017.

To get the new license, individuals must provide a birth certificate and Social Security card, which must be authenticated and scanned in for electronic storage.

With wait times expected to increase, Stokes said the DMV is trying to drive as much traffic as possible online, where 25 transactions – from changing your address to designing a personalized license plate – can be conducted.

“We encourage people to look at list and don’t come and see us unless you have to,” Stokes said.

Advocates for the poor say the changes could disadvantage those who may not have Internet access, a telephone or a checking account.

Supporters counter that most other bills are paid by mail, telephone or online.

McDougle said it still would be cheaper to pay 50 cents for a money order and 41 cents for a stamp than paying the $5 surcharge fee.

Individuals would not be charged the $5 fee if they renew their registration at one the department’s 50 DMV Select locations, usually commissioners of revenue or county treasurers set up in locations farther away from one of the customer service centers.

Except for getting a driver’s license, learner’s permit or other ID card, most other transactions can be done at the satellite centers.

Stokes said she hopes the changes do not make residents feel like the DMV doesn’t want them.

“It’s not that you’re not welcome, we’re just trying to make your life easier,” she said.

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