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MNLARS soon to be replaced by VTRS

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MNLARS soon to be replaced by VTRS
Kari Orth assists Maleaha Laski and Bouhmid Naji with a title transfer at a driver and vehicle services office in St. Paul in June 2011. Big changes are in the works for the state's troubled vehicle licensing and registration system known as MNLARS.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2011

It's goodbye MNLARS and hello VTRS. Pronounced VIT-russ, it stands for Vehicle Title and Registration System.

No matter what you call it, it's been expensive. Taxpayers have spent more than $100 million over the past decade on MNLARS, which ran into problems as soon as it was launched two years ago. And the transportation budget bill that lawmakers passed in last month's special session spends another $53 million and raises fees to make MNLARS go away and replace it with an off-the-shelf software package.

The new name is important, said Senate transportation committee chair Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson.

"I want people to know that there is a difference. If we left it with the name MNLARS, I don't think people would have understood that this is a brand-new system."

During the debate on the bill last month, Newman said the extra expense will be worth it.

"In the end, we will wind up with a system that actually works. It will be a system that we will be able to maintain, and the state of Minnesota will be in a position to no longer have to put up with the difficulties that we have put up with for the last two years and more."

Under the new law, officials must use an expedited process to select an outside vendor with experience in at least five states and award a contract for the replacement system by July 1. Three companies expressed preliminary interest in such a takeover a year ago. 

The ongoing work to fix and improve MNLARS comes to a halt this month following one final software update. The system will then be in freeze mode until something new is ready to roll.

The new law calls for the VTRS system to be launched by the end of 2020. Full implementation, as well as the decommissioning of MNLARS, will be completed by the fall of 2021.

Gov. Tim Walz said this week that he expects an orderly transition.

"Most of those initial MNLARS investments will all still be transferable and work, that data transfer and all that," he said. "So, it's not as if we're going back to square one. We're just launching from that point."

The replacement of MNLARS with a packaged software solution was recommended by a team of independent technology experts in a report delivered to the governor on May 1. The team headed by Rick King, executive vice president of operations at Thomson Reuters, said in its report that while the switch would be costly and disruptive it would be the lowest-risk way to meet the state's long-term needs.

House transportation committee chair Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, is hopeful about the coming changes.

"If a private vendor can do some things technologically that our current system was unable to fulfill, then I think we'll be on a path to giving our citizens the services they need and deserve, and making sure the driver's license and registration system is no longer a big political football here at the Capitol."

Hornstein is confident that the state agencies in charge of the system will select a quality vendor to make the switch. He's less concerned about the new system's name.

"I think the citizens just want to make sure that they're getting their driver's license and their plates and their tabs in the most efficient manner possible. I'm not sure that people really follow what it's called."

The coming switch means that deputy registrars throughout the state will once again need to learn a new system. Those local licensing agents were among the loudest critics of MNLARS and its flaws.

Kristy Beaucage of the deputy registrar office in South St. Paul said she is glad that MNLARS will be replaced with a new system.

"It will be something that will hopefully get implemented quickly. It means that we can learn it quickly and turn this whole thing around," she said. "I mean this has been really rough for the last couple of years."