An alternative to the often dreaded visit to the Division of Motor Vehicles was unveiled in Soldotna on Tuesday by the head of the state's vehicle registration agency.
People on the Kenai Peninsula needing to register cars, trucks, boats and other personal vehicles normally handled by the DMV may instead go to AK Express Tags, Titles and Registration, which opens in the new strip mall next to the Dairy Queen in Soldotna on the Sterling Highway, beginning Monday, according to Duane Bannock, DMV director.
Bannock told members of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce that the new, private enterprise will conduct all the transactions the DMV office normally handles, except driver's licenses.
The new AK Express office, owned by Norm Murphy, will charge a fee for services, in line with the penalty DMV charges if people personally visit the DMV office rather than renewing registrations and paying other fees and taxes online or by mail.
"The DMV charges $10 for coming in to renew license plates," Murphy said. "We'll charge the same."
AK Express also will offer business hours more conducive to work and school schedules of many drivers.
"We'll be open from 9 (a.m.) to 7 (p.m.) Monday through Friday and we'll have Saturday hours," Murphy said. The office will be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.
"One other thing we offer, is if the lines get too big, we can hire new people without the restraints of the state bureaucracy," Murphy said.
Bannock said the DMV office alternative concept will be tried in other high population areas of Alaska in addition to the peninsula.
He said when he was appointed director of the the motor vehicle division, he told the governor he would do something about the long lines at DMV.
He said the division handled 1.4 million transactions in Alaska in 2003 through 16 DMV offices.
Bannock also told the Soldotna business people about changes to the state's driver's licenses, new requirements of the provisional driver's license program for drivers under age 18, new license plates honoring military veterans and a planned change that would allow people to pay fees by automatic deduction from bank accounts.
The director displayed oversized samples of new digital driver's licenses pointing out security features, such as including a second, ghosted photo of the driver and a digitized signature of the person.
Driver's licenses for people under 21 years old now will be printed vertically rather than the customary horizontal format for instant recognition by businesses serving and selling alcoholic beverages.
"We have new hoops for the provisional driver's license program for drivers under 18," Bannock said.
The new provisional licenses take effect Jan. 1.
"Young people die in cars too often," he said, pointing to the need for tighter restrictions on younger, less experienced drivers.
During the minimum six months a new driver under 18 has a provisional license, he or she may not carry passengers unless one of those passengers is a parent, legal guardian or a person at least 21 years old.
Young drivers will be permitted to carry brothers or sisters as passengers.
Drivers with provisional licenses will not be allowed to drive between 1 and 5 a.m. without a licensed adult in the vehicle, unless going to or from work.
In honoring military service men and women, DMV now is allowing veterans to have their military unit crest displayed on their license plates and DMV has created a new commemorative veterans license plate for drivers who wish to express their support for veterans.
The new plate features a screened image of a waving American flag behind the license number and includes the inscription, "I support our veterans."
Bannock said the license plate comes with an initial $100 fee in addition to the regular price of registration, and carries a biennial $35 fee after that.
"The fees collected go to support our veterans' programs, specifically Veterans Homes," Bannock said.
He said the new commemorative plates also are available for motorcycles.
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