Sticky situation

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The Massachusetts Department of Transportation and, specifically, the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) and its vendor, Applus, dropped the ball and then booted it away when it came to implementing a new state inspection system last week.

The result was a nightmare for garages that offer car and truck inspections for safety and emissions’ stickers. For days, at least two shops on Martha’s Vineyard were unable to issue stickers to customers, turning them away in frustration.

On Monday, Oct. 2, the RMV issued a press release about the changes to the inspection system. New equipment was installed at garages across the state at the expense of garage owners (nearly $6,000 for workstations for standard vehicles and more than $8,000 for those garages that offer inspections for larger trucks).

The idea is a good one. It provides an extra level of security against fraud by incorporating still cameras into the process to make sure inspections are being done on the up and up. In January, video cameras will be added, as well.

On Martha’s Vineyard, two shop owners we spoke to were taking the changes in stride, saying that it was time for such compliance checks. If you do the inspections correctly, follow the protocols that are in place, there was really nothing to worry about being on camera, one of the shop owners told us Monday. That’s before they knew just how poorly the implementation was going to go, with the systems not working and shop owners left to turn customers away.

By Tuesday, Oct. 3, the owners were starting to feel increasingly peeved at the number of hours they were kept on hold. They also didn’t like comments made by an RMV spokesman to the newspaper that the issues being reported had to do with garage owners needing to be retrained on the equipment.

“They say it’s our fault,” said David Pothier, owner of Cars Unlimited in the Martha’s Vineyard Airport business park. “The state screwed this up. They had a year to implement this. They dropped the ball.”

And by Wednesday, after days of unanswered calls by Applus representatives, the two shop owners were in complete frustration mode. None of their calls were returned. One of the owners had to call an Applus representative who oversees Connecticut’s inspection system to get through. It wasn’t until Thursday that both shops were finally up and running.

State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, told The Times in an email that the problem was much more extensive than the RMV originally indicated, and that it was a statewide issue.

Gov. Charlie Baker, asked about the issue by WBZ-TV, said that it was an issue of training in the first place. Apparently, garages sent a representative to training sessions that included a computer presentation, but not any hands-on training.

“Obviously the training that was done to tee people up for this wasn’t as effective as it should’ve been,” Gov. Baker said. “The system is working. The problem we are having at this point is we need to do a better job of training people so they can use it and provide service to their customers.”

This was a state problem, a vendor problem, and not a problem at the local level. The RMV needs to take responsibility for letting down the garage owners and, ultimately, the car and truck owners that it requires to pony up $35 per year to have inspections done.

One Island business owner, Allan deBettencourt at Buddy’s in Oak Bluffs, told The Times that he initially opted not to get the new system because it required him to be on email, something he had previously resisted. But at the behest of his customers, Mr. deBettencourt says he’ll be adding the new inspection equipment.

Smart move. He’ll get it after the kinks have been worked out.