A day after putting it into effect, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles announced Tuesday it is rescinding a $5 "counter fee" on transactions conducted with a representative over the phone or in person at the state's branches.
A spokesperson told WBUR the RMV is working to refund customers who paid the fee Monday and Tuesday morning. The registry has alerted all branches and has posted the decision on its Web site.
The decision came at the behest of Gov. Deval Patrick, who said he supports the registry’s effort to push more of its routine transactions to the Web as a means of reducing branch waiting times. But he said he does not want to add financial hardships during the recession.
"We’re certainly not trying to jam people up," Patrick said. "We’re just dealing with the other thing that people say and are concerned about, which are long wait times at the registry."
In a statement Tuesday, the RMV cited its declining budget as part of the reason for imposing the fee. On Monday, Registrar Rachel Kaprelian offered another reason: generating revenue for the cash-strapped state.
"We're in a fiscal crisis and fees are realigning to reflect that crisis, and this is an added twist to get people to use the Internet," she said.
But Massachusetts legislative leaders, rank-and-file members from both parties and the state's Republican leadership criticized the fee after it took effect Monday. They said it was punitive and could harm poor or elderly customers who lacked Internet access or technical savvy.
Senate President Therese Murray was one of the congressional leaders who said she opposed the measure.
"It doesn't seem quite fair that if you go in and use the services that are supposed to be there that you're charged an extra, what, $5 to talk to a person on the phone," Murray said. "I mean, I like talking to people on the phone if I have a problem."
Gubernatorial aides noted the fee was included in a package of RMV increases that were publicized last April and used — with full House and Senate disclosure — as a basis to fund Registry services this year. Unlike those fees, though, the in-person charge did not take effect until March 1 — singling it out for public scrutiny.
Both Gov. Patrick and Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Mullan — who was called to the State House at 8 a.m. Tuesday to speak with the governor about the fee — said the goal was to reduce branch waiting times by having people conduct routine business by mail or the Internet.
They said with budget cuts, they cannot hire more workers to keep those times in check, so they have been trying to reduce demand. Long waits at the Registry have been a historic source of criticism from Massachusetts residents.
"I think it's an example of us not standing still and looking for creative ways to serve people better," Mullan told the Associated Press. "You know, maybe it's not the best idea. I'm happy if other people have other ideas about how to get those wait times down. We're happy to listen."
In her statement, Registrar Kaprielian stressed that the RMV has added eight new services to its Web site in the last year.
This program aired on March 2, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.