BANGOR – Drivers here and in nine other selected Maine cities now have a choice of waiting in line – or getting online – to renew their car registrations.
Maine Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky announced the pilot program during a Monday news conference at Bangor City Hall. The state official said high consumer expectations led to the new service, called Rapid Renewal.
“People can shop 24 hours, bank 24 hours, and they expect government services to be available 24 hours a day,” Gwadosky said before the news conference. “This is groundbreaking in a lot of ways.”
The program enables motorists to attend to the annual task of registering and paying vehicle excise taxes from a keyboard at home, at work, in a public library or anywhere with Internet access.
Under Rapid Renewal, fees can be paid with a credit card or debit card. Gwadosky said the system would soon accept electronic checks.
Participants will receive their new registrations and license plate decals in the mail within seven days.
Bangor is one of 10 communities throughout the state selected to take part in the program, administered through the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
The others are Lewiston, Brunswick, China, Corinna, Hermon, Holden, Portland, Saco and Waterville.
The communities compose 16 percent of the state’s population, said Gwadosky. Other towns and cities that are interested can be added after the pilot project is completed. Gwadosky said he expected to open up the program, which is voluntary for municipalities, to other communities in three months.
At Bangor City Hall, news of the new service was well received.
“That will be lovely,” said Werner Dietze, who was at City Hall Monday renewing his car registration. “It will be a big help to everybody.”
Online renewal would be especially convenient for Dietze, he said, as he lives in Switzerland but still owns a home, business and vehicles in Bangor.
Suzanne Duval of Bangor also was at City Hall Monday looking to renew her car registration. But unlike Dietze, she said she probably wouldn’t use the service – at least not right away.
“Right now I don’t do anything online,” she said. “But I think it would be a great service, and it would make it better for those of us who still want to come in and have that more personal touch.”
The city handles about 25,000 vehicle registrations – most of them renewals – each year, according to David Little, Bangor’s tax collector and deputy treasurer.
Offering the service could cost the city more in “merchant fees,” Little said Monday. Merchant fees are assessed to the city by credit card or debit card companies for each person who reregisters online.
Last year, the city, which accepts credit cards for vehicle registrations, paid $10,000 in merchant fees. Little said he requested $12,000 in next year’s budget to handle any increase stemming from the online service.
Under the program, registrations for both passenger and commercial vehicles can be renewed online. Registrations for other vehicles, including buses, tractors and emergency vehicles must be renewed in person.
New vehicle registrations also must be done in person.
InforME, a state agency with private-sector employees, is providing a staff of 10 people to run the system.
Maine joins a handful of states, including Indiana, Alabama, Texas and New Mexico, which offer similar services.
The Web site can be accessed through the participating municipalities’ sites or through the secretary of state’s site at www.sosonline.org.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.