BALTIMORE — Vehicle and title registration businesses around the state are losing business after the Maryland Department of Transportation implemented a new online system.
Customer Connect is a five-year system modernization project that consolidates all existing IT systems at MDOT MVA into a single solution for driver licensing, business licensing and title and registration services.
However, when the system went live on July 6, Phil Blackiston, president of Maryland Title & Tag Services in Aberdeen, said business wasn't streamlined, it stopped.
"We’ve turned away between 30 and 40 customers a day that have not been able to get their car registered," said Blackiston. "You know, a thousand dollars a day in income."
The project was approved back in 2018. Governor Larry Hogan and the Board of Public Works awarded FAST Enterprises, LLC a $66.8 million contract plus a $14.4 million renewal option.
Former MDOT Secretary Pete Rahn said the new technology will "further streamline processes and fulfill our mission to connect customers to life’s opportunities."
Instead, the Maryland Vehicle Titling Association (MVTA) that represents over 100 privately owned motor vehicle title and registration businesses called the roll out an "inexcusable disaster."
In a letter obtained by WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii, MVTA's executive director and vice chairman wrote to Governor Hogan:
The MVA led us to believe that the transition from their legacy system to customer connect would be seamless and relatively angst free. The transition has been nothing but a complete failure leading us to believe the forced implementation was reckless. ... MVTA members and their employees risked their health to keep the MVA operating fluidly while their branch employees rightfully so stayed at home. To emerge on the other side of this pandemic in Maryland only to have our feet cut out from under us is extremely disappointing to say the least. We are not sure what the remedy may be at this point, if any. But, MVTA wanted the Governor of Maryland to know what impact the decisions of MDOT and the MVA are having on your small businesses.
- Wendy C. May Executive Director & Lisa A. Thompas Vice Chairman, MVTA
"It’s made us look really bad, and it’s been bad for business in general," said Adam Whitlock, an owner of Parkville Tag and Title.
He added that random error messages have kept him from providing services.
"There's no real rhyme or reason to what transactions can be processed and what can't, and then today, the whole system is just completely down altogether again," Whitlock said.
The system breakdown isn't just impeding business but it's threatening his ability to pay employees.
"We can’t take in money because we’re turning away customers but we also want those depending on a paycheck from us to still get that paycheck," said Whitlock. "There’s potentially thousands of dollars that have walked out at a really crucial time."
Titling services are still being offered through the MVA by appointment only. When Sofastaii tried to make an appointment online, she received a message that she wasn't eligible. And when she called the phone numbers listed, all of them were busy.
A spokeswoman with MDOT MVA said they've made several modifications to address concerns brought to their attention since going live. They've also seen an increase in daily transactions, from roughly 2,500 on July 6 to more than 5,800 transactions per day by the end of last week. Below is the full statement.
The Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration (MDOT MVA) appreciates the patience of Maryland residents as we deploy a new interface that will ultimately streamline transactions and create a more user-friendly experience for customers, employees, third-party vendors and our other partners.
Originally, Phase 1 of the Customer Connect modernization was scheduled to take place over Memorial Day weekend 2020, and 2 years ago MDOT MVA began providing information and resources for third-party vendors and our partners in preparation. Due to the unprecedented COVID-19 health emergency, the Customer Connect Memorial Day deployment was postponed in order to prioritize the health and safety of our employees and customers. For a deployment this size, it was necessary to schedule the launch over a three-day holiday weekend to minimize disruption to operations, especially as MDOT MVA works to accommodate customers on a limited appointment-only basis as part of the phased reopening plan that began June 8. MDOT MVA has made every effort to test as many systems as possible and collaborate with our partners to make for a successful deployment.
We have already made several modifications to address concerns brought to our attention since going live. Based on these changes, as well as those using the system becoming more comfortable, we have seen an increase in the number of transactions completed each day. On Monday, July 6, we saw roughly 2,500 transactions – by the end of last week, we saw over 5,800 transactions per day. This is an increase of 132%. We appreciate all our employees and partners who adapted to the changes presented by the pandemic and worked safely and effectively to make this happen.
MDOT MVA staff – including Administrator Chrissy Nizer – have been on the phone with dealers and tag and title businesses every day since the Customer Connect roll out to help troubleshoot issues, and we have worked to resolve many of them. We will continue to provide as much support as we possibly can to make the transition as smooth as possible for all our stakeholders. We look forward to sharing more about the many benefits and service upgrades that Customer Connect provides in the days ahead.
- Whitney Nichels, Media Relations Manager, MDOT MVA
For more information about Customer Connect, click here.