RI DMV warns lines will be long through computer system launch

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Next month Rhode Island will flip the switch on a Division of Motor Vehicles computer upgrade years in the making – and officials are warning it will be “bumpy.”

Kevin Fernald showed up at the Rhode Island DMV in Cranston at 11 a.m. Thursday morning. Almost four hours later, he was still waiting for his number to be called.

“I just need to get a new license,” Fernald said. “I didn’t think it would be that difficult!”

State officials expect lines at the DMV to remain long through the the launch of the agency’s new $20-million computer system.

The new system, known as the Rhode Island Modernization System (RIMS), will replace an aging system that has been in use since the 1980s. But the effort to build RIMS has become notorious after dragging on for more than a decade and rising sharply in cost.

Robert Hull, director of the R.I. Department of Revenue, said system testing and employee training for RIMS has been successful so far.

“Right now we feel cautiously optimistic that there aren’t any road blocks, but we have 27 days more to see if that remains the case,” Hull said. “We will not go live if we’re not comfortable.”

Rhode Islanders will see some disruption of normal DMV service during the computer switchover.

Online DMV transactions will not be available from Friday, June 30 through Tuesday, July 4. All DMV branches will be closed on Monday, July 3 and Tuesday, July 4. Services will be available online and at the Cranston branch beginning July 5, but for several days post-launch, in-person services will only be available by reservation.

To prepare for branch closures, the DMV is encouraging customers to complete transactions prior to the launch. The DMV has waived banking charges for most online transactions, and AAA Northeast will process DMV transactions for non-members.

DMV Administrator Walter “Bud” Craddock is also calling on state lawmakers to pass legislation that would allow him to offer grace periods for expiration dates on licenses and registrations. Craddock said he’s also in communication with the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), as well.

“TSA is going to send notices to all of their gate agents and employees to make sure that all of our Rhode Island credentials that are expired are accepted to board a plane,” Craddock said.

The switch to the new system will also cause a brief outage for law enforcement agencies nationwide. Craddock said during that time, law enforcement will not have access to the DMV’s records.

“We anticipate that being less than an hour,” Craddock said.

A spokesperson for Rhode Island State Police said the law enforcement agency will do its best to work around the scheduled outage.

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.