Twitter, other social media expands response with DMV, city of Rock Hill

adouglas@heraldonline.comAugust 6, 2013 

A smart-phone wielding voter frustrated by a long wait at the Newport office of the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles turned to Twitter last week to “write to his congressman.”

The man fired off a public message to Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, saying that the office’s technology was “subpar” and the department’s staff members are underpaid and have “not great attitudes.”

A glitch in the DMV’s computer equipment Friday caused a line of customers to weave out the office door, according to the man’s tweet, and he’d experienced a similar problem at the office the week before.

State DMV records show no indication of a computer crash in Newport and no customer waited more than 20 minutes at the office last week, said Beth Parks, DMV communications director.

But Simrill followed up on the man’s Twitter complaint and found that the DMV office in Fort Mill had a computer problem last week, leaving customers waiting an average of 28 minutes on Tuesday.

The department has an internal check in place that alerts the state office whenever a DMV branch exceeds an average customer wait time of 20 minutes.

At the Newport office on Hands Mill Road just outside Rock Hill, the average wait time on any given day has not exceeded 20 minutes since July 2, Parks said.

On the day the man contacted Simrill on Twitter, the average wait time at the Newport office was about 16 minutes, according to DMV records.

That day, the Newport branch handled 711 transactions – a busy day, Parks said – and their wait time was low enough to stay off the “hit list.”

The Newport office complaint may have originated from the man’s experience of waiting in line to reach the “greeter” at the DMV, she said.

The department does not track how long it takes for customers to reach its greeters.

Instead, its 20-minute standard applies to the time it takes a customer to receive service after receiving a ticket from the greeter and waiting inside the building.

At the Fort Mill office last Tuesday, the “perfect storm” took place which added time to the average customer’s wait, Parks said.

Last Tuesday, she said, was near the end of the month of July and close to the back-to-school season – a time when many high school students visit the DMV to get their driver’s license or permit.

Typically, the Newport and Fort Mill offices are two of the busiest in the state, according to DMV data.

Being close to the state’s border, the Fort Mill DMV processes a great deal of paperwork for North Carolina-based car dealerships seeking tags for South Carolina customers, Parks said.

The Fort Mill office is one of six DMV branches across the state that handle “full loads” of car dealership work, she said.

At any other branch in the state, car dealership representatives can only process three transactions at a time before they have to get back in line and wait again.

At “dealer central” offices, representatives can drop off several transactions at once and pick them up when the paperwork is complete.

DMV officials limit car dealers to three transactions at most offices, Parks said, to cut down on customer wait time and, hopefully, avoid creating frustration like what was expressed on Twitter last week.

Still, the department “wants to hear the good and the bad,” she said.

Simrill agreed with Parks, saying he thinks Twitter is a great tool to help his constituents get involved in the political process.

An average wait time of 28 minutes in Fort Mill, he said, represents a “pretty significant backlog.”

The “bad news” is that a customer had a bad experience, Simrill said, but the “good news” is that the problem appeared to have happened in isolation.

DMV records show that last week across the state, customer wait times exceeded an average of 20 minutes at three out of the department’s 67 branches.

Simrill says he heard a lot of complaints about the DMV in the 1990s – more than a decade before Twitter’s creation.

Those complaints came in the form of phone calls, conversations and letters.

Changing technology, he said, has improved the DMV’s operation and the connectivity between elected officials and voters.

Customers can now see in real time how long the wait is at any DMV office by visiting the department’s website. Many services such as ordering duplicate driver’s licenses and replacing lost or stolen vehicle registration tags are available online.

Twitter and other websites such as Facebook have increased interaction between government officials and residents, said Katie Quinn, city of Rock Hill spokeswoman and manager of the city’s official social media profiles.

The majority of complaints and questions funneled to the city’s Twitter account relate to electricity outages.

Rock Hill launched its Twitter site more than two years ago and created a Facebook page last summer.

When a follower files a complaint or question through the city’s social media pages, Quinn says she responds directly or asks the appropriate department to follow up.

During one recent power outage in Rock Hill, the city’s Twitter account saw a jump of 25 new “followers” in a span of about one hour.

Many residents tweet to the city’s account to notify officials of an electricity service problem on their street, Quinn said.

From the city’s profile, Quinn sends out updates on widespread outages and when crews expect to restore electricity.

“Sometimes all people want to know is that we know there’s a problem,” she said, “and that we’re doing something about it.”

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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