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MAY 2013

Mobile DMVs hit the ground rolling in many jurisdictions.

Caroline Alexander just got a brand new learner’s permit—one of millions of young drivers to do so this year. But unlike many of those teens, she didn’t visit a DMV building to get it. “I went in and took the test, and it went relatively fast. Then I went right back to class,” she says, proud of her brand new driving privileges.

Alexander’s DMV can hit the road just as easily as she can. It’s one of Virginia’s DMV 2 Go units, a mobile DMV that pulled up right near her high school.

Virginia’s DMV 2 Go mobile offices are traveling throughout the commonwealth providing reliable DMV service on the go to people like Caroline Alexander. What customers can do inside a DMV office, they can do on board the mobile offices at a convenient time and place for them. The Virginia DMV currently has a fleet of five DMV 2 Go mobile offices and plans to expand the popular program.

“Our mobile office program is a prime example of our enhanced customer service efforts,” says Virginia DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb. “What better way to help busy Virginians than by bringing services directly to them?”

Hitting the road

Virginia is one of several AAMVA jurisdictions that have added mobile DMVs into their daily operations. With more and more AAMVA jurisdictions creating mobile DMV units, getting a driver’s license renewed, getting a vehicle titled or even taking a driving exam no longer requires a visit to a brick-and-mortar building. Buses, trailers and other mobile units across North America are taking DMV services straight to the customer and, in many cases, are offering access to people who have had a difficult time getting to the DMV in the past.

Mobile FLOW units have been a part of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles for 20 years. During the last two years alone, they issued about 25,000 credentials through their 11 mobile units in operation: six modular units called “mini FLOW” capable of being carried in a van, and five new FLOW buses. Like the DMV 2 Go in Virginia, Florida’s FLOW units reach every corner of their communities.

“We are able to serve customers in communities where we do not have any offices,” says Deb Roby of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. “We can deploy the mobile units to areas that have been impacted by hurricanes, tornados, flooding, etc. to credential emergency workers and assist the public.”

And having more than one type of mobile unit expands their reach, says Roby. “The mini FLOWs allow us to do inside visits, such as driver education classes, and the FLOW buses are used for outside visits, such as large public events. We do prison outreach to credential inmates who are due to be released, and we also work with many different homeless advocacy groups to issue ID cards to homeless individuals.”

Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles has a mobile unit that has been in operation since 2007—it debuted at the State Fair that year, providing all of the services customers can receive in a branch except for testing. And while it’s still used publicly at the Indiana State Fair, Gary Abell with Indiana BMV says the focus of the unit has changed over the years.

“The mobile unit is used almost exclusively at our state prisons,” Abell says. “It’s used to make sure prisoners who will be discharged in the next six months have an ID card once they’re released. We also use the mobile unit in disaster recovery situations—like in the aftermath of a tornado or flood. We coordinate our efforts with emergency management officials and work to get replacement licenses, IDs, registrations and titles to affected customers as quickly as possible.”

For the Indiana BMV, the mobile unit is one of many ways it serves customers, and it’s not the only thing it’s doing to make things more convenient. Abell says Indiana has focused efforts on encouraging customers to use its website for routine transactions, and that has been very successful in reducing traffic in branches. For the most part, he says, customers still visit the branches for more complex transactions, such as titling a new vehicle. “The need for the mobile unit changed over time,” Abell says.

And operating the units comes with challenges. “The units require a high degree of maintenance and dedicated staff to run the unit,” Abell says. “Traveling takes a toll on the electronic equipment, so you need to have replacement parts available. We use a satellite connection, and it’s not nearly as fast as a hard-wired connection; it takes much longer to process transactions via a satellite hook-up. Previously, we received many requests for the mobile unit to be at small festivals and events. It’s important to determine whether the time and money spent on attending the event is cost-efficient; not many people are expecting a BMV mobile unit to be at a festival and rarely have the documents needed to transact business.”

Mobile benefits

For the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, the benefits of its MVA bus outweigh the challenges of operating a mobile unit. “We started serving residents of Maryland in remote locations with the MVA Mobile Office in 1997 when we received a discarded MTA transit bus—a 1982 model—pulled out of the junkyard and refurbished it,” says Caryn Coyle with the Maryland MVA.

In 2009, they added a second bus that was custom built for the MVA. “It is not a transit bus; it is a touring bus and has state-of-the-art equipment, able to handle the technology needed to run the MVA’s many services,” says Coyle. The two buses are still in operation today.

Sandy Bathurst is Maryland MVA’s manager for the MVA bus, which has served 250,000 people since the bus was first launched. Though Bathurst and her team do not work regular 8-hour days and there can be long hours associated with the MVA bus, she says she couldn’t sit and work at an office again after running the mobile unit. She loves it, and it seems that customers throughout Maryland do as well.

“It is very popular, and is used at retirement centers, military bases and places where MVA branch offices are fairly far away. Chestertown, MD is a popular spot for the bus—the nearest MVA branch office is 40 miles away,” says Coyle.

In fact, the MVA bus was recognized by Friendship Heights Village, one of the communities it serves, with an award for its integrity and dedication to service. Melanie Rose White, mayor of the Friendship Heights Village Council, says, “Not only is it wonderfully convenient, but the MVA staff are well-known for their courtesy and efficiency.”

Back in Virginia, Alexander also has nothing but praise for the mobile DMV that helped her get her learner’s permit. “It would have taken a lot more effort to plan and go down [to an office], standing in line and waiting and everything,” she says. And when she’s ready for her Virginia driver’s license, she says the DMV 2 Go is where she’s going to get it.