Long lines and a system crash: Registration process bedevils Missoula vehicle owners

Motor vehicle owners waited for several hours on Tuesday to register their vehicle at the Missoula office. Several of them had returned after waiting without luck for several hours on Monday as well. (Missoula Current)

Dozens of residents looking to register a vehicle and complete title work at the Missoula County treasurer’s office on Monday waited several hours for their number to come up, some without success.

Those who returned on Tuesday hoping the early hour might expedite the process waited again, this time due to a system crash at the state.

Long lines, slow processing and computer crashes have left many local residents frustrated and calling for a better system.

“I came in this morning and got my name in,” Beth Taylor Wilson said on Monday. “I left when I realized there were 40 people ahead of me. I came back again and got in line, thinking by 5 p.m. I could get in, but then they closed the machines down. They’ve got to find a system.”

The office closed the automated check-in at 2 p.m. on Monday due to the lines and the time it takes to process each customer. Most of them were told to return the next morning.

By 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, the line was already out the door. When the office opened at 8 a.m., those in line were told the system had crashed and the office couldn’t process titles and registrations.

Staff had no indication of when it would come back up.

“It can be an all-day process today,” one county employee told a waiting woman, who also inquired about an appointment. “Appointments are a month out. Your other option would be to drive to Helena.”

Last year, Missoula County officials blamed excessive wait times on motor vehicle software at the Montana Department of Justice.

In that instance, which played out in August, Missoula County Clerk and Treasurer Tyler Gernant penned a letter to the DOJ expressing local frustrations while pointing to the system’s inadequacies. Nearly a year later, the delays continue, leaving clients to sometimes wait four or more hours.

Those waits were exacerbated by Tuesday’s system crash.

John Barnes with the Montana Attorney General’s Office said Tuesday’s problem was not with the Montana Enhanced Registration and Licensing Information Network, otherwise known as MERLIN.

Rather, he said, it was a “hardware issue in the storage area network.”

“The issue was isolated and resolved,” he said. “The system was down from approximately 2:30 a.m. until approximately 8:45 a.m. After the IT folks tested and confirmed system stability, authorization went out for counties to enter transactions at approximately 9:45 a.m.”

By 9:45 a.m., 48 people were waiting to renew their vehicle registration and another 62 were waiting to process their title. Monday saw similar lines that took hours to navigate.

One woman arrived at 11 a.m. and was still waiting at 4 p.m.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” she said. “They’ve got to find a better way.”