For the past year, some North Carolina drivers have faced one more headache in the inspection-and-fee ritual: the state’s computer systems have been losing or delaying up to 35,000 vehicle inspections per month.
Inspection stations normally transmit electronic copies of inspections to a central Department of Motor Vehicle system. Once they’re processed, drivers pay their fees online or by phone.
Problems with the system have multiplied tenfold since the beginning of last year, when a contractor installed a new software system meant to bridge the DMV’s computers with the thousands of certified inspectors.
When the online system doesn’t work, drivers have to get a receipt from their inspection to the DMV for a “manual override.” About 35,000 people requested overrides this February, compared to a baseline of about 3,000 during the same month two years ago. Those 35,000 people represented about 6 percent of the inspections sent to the state.
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The best sign an inspection has gone missing: the DMV’s website may not respond to attempts to pay annual vehicle fees online, and DMV staff may report that they have not received the required inspection.
The state has blamed the problem on MILES, a system installed by a contractor called Opus Inspection, according to DMV spokeswoman Marge Howell. The new software “has had logic and code issues,” Howell wrote in an email.
The state’s contract with Opus is worth $6.2 million, but the DMV doesn’t consider the project to be complete and has paid only $2.4 million, Howell said. Opus last received payment in March 2013, she said. The company did not respond to a call for comment Friday.
Delays and problems with new computer systems are far from unusual for governments. The public debut of the federal Healthcare.gov was famously troubled, North Carolina continues to wrestle with NC FAST, the computerized infrastructure for food-assistance programs and the state’s new PowerSchool system has had trouble producing up-to-date transcripts and other information for public schools.
“Software glitches aside, it’s not good customer service to have a problem like this,” Howell said. “Even though it’s not affecting everybody in the state, it doesn’t matter, we want it fixed.”
The state expects the fix to come from the contractor.
The problem seems to happen when the state’s computer systems are jammed by surges of applications, Howell said. Some of the incoming reports are delayed, while others disappear entirely.
In either case, the DMV accepts a printed receipt as evidence of inspection. Every inspection is supposed to come with a receipt, and the inspectors are supposed to keep a copy.
“That is definitely something that we want (the public) to know, and we certainly have let the inspection station mechanics and technicians know to tell their customers to hold on to their receipt,” she said.