RMV? Renew? Ha ha ha!

April 13th, 2010 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »


Sometimes bureaucratic incompetence is so elegant, so complete that we can only begrudgingly admire it. I doubt that our RMV actively teaches unusability to its programmers. Rather, they must hire for that inability.

Yesterday, I found out that even though I had renewed our van’s registration online a month before, it was unregistered. We had been expecting the new paper and decal, but were not concerned. I had my date and time of renewal, as well as the confirming transaction number issued at the time. The form we got in the mail even said we’d be able to use that until we got the new material.

As it turns out, the RMV can and did void the transaction without letting me know. My blunder, which was immediately obvious to the guy I spoke with after waiting on hold (praise speakerphones) for 41 minutes, was that I had entered the amount the RMV document said I owed.

Foolish I had entered the printed amount when the online renewal page commanded. The two prominent spots on the form that list it read Fee: 55.00.

Honk. Thanks for playing. That’s totally wrong.

My new phone buddy explained that there should have been a separate little piece of paper in the envelope reading that online registration was $50, that is $5 less.

Well, we had the envelope as well as the form. It had no such note.

Even if that had been there, most drivers would not be anal-retentive as I and many likely would not have noticed it. I suspect that was how the guy knew so quickly what the problem was.

He pleasantly explained that if you are off so much as a penny either way when you type in (not click a radio button or other choice) the amount, the transaction appears to go through but does not complete. Yet, the site shows a completed transaction, provides a transaction number for reference and most important does not give any error message.

Gotcha, sucker!

There is no provision to notify anyone that it voided the renewal on the QT. The next time you hear of it is when the garage where you go for an inspection informs you, or in our case if you get a new insurance quote, or probably worst, if a police office pulls you for any purpose.

Honestly, I admit that I would have contacted them in another week regardless. We had not gotten that garish sticker for the license plate. Yet, I never imagined that they screwed me in the dark.

As a long-time tech writer with considerable usability training, I did have to ask a few questions. It turns out:

  • The process will give you an error message early, but only if the vehicle and owner details it demands do not match the database.
  • Online renewal does not give you a valid price or choice of valid prices related to the vehicle they just looked up.
  • The online form will take whatever fee you enter.
  • It will accept a valid credit card number and expiration date.
  • It will reward you with a sense of accomplishment with a message that the renewal was complete, providing you with a transaction number.

The wonderful humor here of course is that they can do to you what they did to us — void the transaction after the fact without informing you in any way at any time.

By the bye, my RMV guy left me hanging until I asked how I could proceed. He told me I could try again online, but was not at all surprised when I said I was not interested in another such gamble. Then he said I could give him a credit card number and he’d do it immediately. I went that way.

At the end, he gave me an authorization number. That apparently is supposed to me more meaningful than a transaction number. I remain to be convinced and won’t really be until I get the paperwork in hand in what he said would be three to seven days.

I’ll do my anal thing here and write to the new DOT chief. I can point out:

  1. The form mailed owners needs a price in the 1) Renew online BEST OPTION at top. Even if you do intend to tuck an addendum with a separate price in, think like a citizen and consider what information you will use at renewal time.
  2. This the 21st Century, computer and internet era and all that. If you use the database to access the owner and vehicle information, also access the line for the fee, which you print on the renewal application.
  3. If you must have the owner choose the fee, make it a choice from valid ones, not a string entry.
  4. If an invalid fee entry will queer the renewal, provide the error during the process and prompt for correction, as with the vehicle information up front or the credit card entry at the end.
  5. Never, ever, ever provide a number and message indicating a complete transaction if you have not done your verification on the backend.
  6. Go to any government or commercial site and see how it’s done.

Tags: , , , , , ,


2 Responses

  1. Robin Edgar says:

    The dreaded Emerson Avenger is in Beantown for a Boston TEA Party as it were Harrumpher. If you would like to get together for a beer and a chat over the weekend drop me a line at robinedgar59@yahoo.ca

  2. Harrumpher says:

    Oops…missed that.

Leave a Reply