DMV privatization? It’s a goal of an Onslow County senator

Sen. Michael Lazzara (R-Onslow)

RALEIGH — Sen. Michael Lazzara (R-Onslow) would like to see the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (NCDMV) move to the private sector.

In an interview with North State Journal, Larazza said he is optimistic lawmakers will get useful information from a study on privatizing the NCDMV due to the legislature on May 1.

The study, included in the most recent state budget, seeks to explore the possibility of further privatizing and modernizing services provided by the NCDMV to enhance citizen satisfaction and efficiency. $125,000 was set aside for an outside consultant firm to be hired to assess cost, legislative requirements, potential improvements, interaction with existing contractors, and economic impact.

Additionally, the study will look at transition strategies, oversight mechanisms, market interest from vendors, vendor selection methods, and alternative modernization approaches aside from privatization.

“We’ve just had a long list of frustrations with our DMV,” said Lazzara, who is co-chair of the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee. “You know, it’s just the long wait times, the cumbersome process, the frustration from our states residents, you know our state citizens and our dealers – our auto dealers has just been overwhelming – and I think it just highlights the challenges that we face with the DMV.”

“Some years ago we’d been asking for modernization and we allocated $90 million for the modernization of their software system, their processes. And you know we have LPA’s (License Plate Agencies) out there that that are, I guess somewhat private [or] they are private, but they work under a significant amount of rules and regulations and many of that are not as successful as we want them to be for the same reason.”

Lazzara said part of the problem is the outdated software systems used by the NCDMV, some of which still use a 60-year-old programming language called COBOL.

“I mean, we can give them excuses and, again, we allocated $90,000,000 and they have upgraded,” Lazzara said of the NCDMV’s systems. “And they’ve used quite a bit of money for other things and they tried to launch some kiosks which weren’t successful. So we just think that privatization is an option.”

In 2016, the only two NCDMV offices that handled registration stickers for personal vehicles as well as titles for cars used by state employees was transitioned to a company contracted through the NCDMV. Around the same time, most of the state’s license plate offices had also changed over to the private sector. Many offices handling citizen car titles these days also are staffed by outside contract companies.

One state in the country, Hawaii, has moved its DMV operations away from state government control entirely. Hawaii’s DMV operations are now local government controlled with some partial privatization.

“We think that it it’s not just about outsourcing, it’s about infusing efficiency and customer centric into a public service,” said Lazzara. “And we just think that there may be some opportunities there to save money for our state government and to give the private sector an opportunity to provide service a lot more efficiently than we’re doing.”

Lazzara said he thinks it could lead to “substantial savings” by reducing overhead costs.

The Onslow lawmaker cited long wait times in his county, which also sees high transaction rates due to military base activity in that area, as well as a recent shutdown of an LPA that has had his office fielding a lot of complaints. Lazzara said he was able to get some relief for customers via a temporary office, however, it is only open for a couple of days each week.

We’ve just got to do better. I mean, we can do better. This is the 21th century,” Lazzara said. “You know we can do better and so I’m hoping that we get some really good information back where we can make some decisions to look at the potential privatization.”