DMV chief makes agency more user-friendly

Ginny Lewis is looking for every way possible to keep customers out of her office.

And according to her, the more successful she is, the better her business is.

But Lewis isn't your typical business manager. She's director of the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles.

When she took over five years ago, the mere mention of DMV prompted horror stories, foul language and even threats. Tempers flared as the average time in line soared passed three hours in Las Vegas offices, forcing the state to put armed security at metropolitan offices. Complaints rained down on legislative phones and e-mail addresses, leaving lawmakers and the governor's office little choice but to support - and fund - major changes.

"DMV is the front door of state government," she said. "Especially for new residents."

The biggest change, as it turned out, was Lewis herself. Unlike her predecessors, she doesn't have a law enforcement background. Starting as a clerk in record research in 1979, she had risen through the ranks of the DMV itself.

She told lawmakers the immediate solution, unavoidably, was to put more people - a lot more people - at the counters to serve those waiting for new licenses, registrations and ID cards.

But the long-term answer, she told them, was surprisingly simple: "We had to find ways to keep the customer out of our offices."

Over the past five years, that has become DMV's mantra. Now, unless you buy a new car, almost all normal business with DMV can be accomplished by mail, the Internet or at one of the department's new kiosks. Wait times, even in Las Vegas, now average less than an hour as thousands of people do their business without ever standing in line.

And most important, at least for legislators, the vast majority of complaints they receive are gone.

Lewis' first major decision was to bring the department's new Genesis computer system online, even though she knew that would temporarily make wait times worse as her staff learned to use it.

"If we hadn't brought the system on, it would have been business as usual," she said, pointing out that Genesis made many of the other changes possible.

One of the big changes made possible by the computer is that any customer window can handle any type of business. That means if the driver's-license line is long but the registration line short, they can have more technicians start handling licenses.

To move people through and track wait times, all customers now get a numbered ticket when they arrive. That information, Lewis said, helps find problem areas and bottlenecks so they can be fixed.

With legislative support, Lewis began hiring and training staff to make sure every customer-service window in the busiest offices was always open. Those new employees are finished training at the windows in Southern Nevada. Galletti Way in Reno is next, with the request for staff on the Interim Finance Committee's November agenda.

In addition to extended hours during the week, many major offices are now open for business Saturdays. Carson City is next on the list.

But most important for the long run, Lewis said the department began expanding the ways customers could get their business done without going to a DMV office. It started by making basic, simple services such as registration and driver's-license renewals available by Internet. Key to that was enabling DMV, for the first time, to take credit card payments.

Now, she said, thousands use the Internet every month rather than go to a DMV office.

But the department's biggest success, she said, is the kiosks they began installing a year ago.

"We realized we had so many people who use cash," she said. "They work for the casinos, and many of them don't have credit cards. They'll never be online."

The kiosk, she said, gets them at least out of line, enabling cash customers to renew a license or register by machine at any metropolitan DMV office.

"Fifty-five percent of kiosk customers pay with cash," she said.

There are now 20 of the ATM-like machines around the state. DMV workers patrol the lines, asking customers what service they need and introducing everyone they can to the kiosks. And soon, she said, they'll begin installing the kiosks outside so people can use them after hours.

Now, she said, they've added insurance reinstatement to Internet services and, as soon as possible, will add that to the kiosks as well.

"We're the only state doing this," she said. "It's cash, and the customer walks away with a decal and registration for his car."

And, she said, use by Spanish-language speakers "has been huge."

Altogether, kiosks are now attracting more than 2,500 customers a week.

But Lewis said she's not done getting people out of line.

"Who's in the office we can't get out of here right now is the buyer," she said.

People who buy a new vehicle must go to DMV to have their Vehicle Identification Number inspected and verified and get the car registered. Other states, including California, have dealers handle much of that paperwork when they sell the vehicle, but Lewis said Nevada hasn't gotten there yet.

All the innovations have cost the state money, but Lewis says they have saved money as well. The biggest savings, she said, is in delaying construction of new offices around the state. More kiosks will continue that, but eventually, she said, DMV will need to build more offices.

After all, Nevada now has 1.8 million drivers and 2.4 million registered vehicles.

Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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