TxDMV reports nearly 20 statewide computer outages

Drivers wait at the Travis County Tax Office for TxDMV services. (KXAN Photo/Kevin Schwaller)
Drivers wait at the Travis County Tax Office for TxDMV services. (KXAN Photo/Kevin Schwaller)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Some drivers have shown up to county offices to transfer their car titles or renew their registrations, only to find out the computer system wasn’t working properly and they would have to come back another day.

Now, a Texas Department of Motor Vehicles report obtained by KXAN shows that as the TxDMV rolled out a modernized titling and registration system, it experienced 19 statewide outages of the system. The down time ranged from 10 minutes to nine hours while offices were open.

“We’d get an email from the state saying the system is down we hope it’s up in ‘x’ minutes or ‘x’ hours,” said Bruce Elfant, the Travis County tax assessor-collector. “Sometimes it is and sometimes we get another email saying, well, it’s going to be down for the rest of the day.”

Elfant says outages were rare before the state began to modernize its system. Still, a representative with the DMV says records are not as detailed for the old system, making it hard to tell how extensive outages occurred previously.

“There’s no such thing as doing it old fashioned way with paper. So if someone came in during an outage, we couldn’t handle it. They literally had to just come back,” said State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who is also the chairman of the Texas House Transportation Committee. “It was frustrating. I know it hasn’t happened that much, but enough to cause some concern.”

The outages meant anyone trying to get registration and title services in person at a county office could not do so. However, online users could still renew their registration and customers of auto dealers should not have noticed a change. Still, some services are only available in person or by mail.

The report from TxDMV also showed a variety of causes for the issues. “We understand that these projects don’t always go perfectly, but we’re hoping we’re getting to the end of it and we’re hoping the system will be a lot better than it has been,” said Elfant.

Rep. Pickett says he believes the TxDMV has acted quickly to fix the problem. The TxDMV also listed a number of reasons for the outages in its recent report including connectivity issues, bugs, along with memory and server problems.

“This system actually maintains more than 60 million records in it,” said Eric Obermier, chief information officer of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. “We do, on average, approximately two million registrations per month. That includes renewals.”

Obermier says that the new system has been up and working 98.5 percent of the time in its first year. He says when the state saw a dip in performance it immediately worked with the main contractor to put together a team of experts to look at the system from top to bottom and recommend changes.

“We have seen very positive effects. During the last eight weeks, we have been up 100 percent of the time for those walk in customers,” said Obermier. The team’s final report was set to be complete at the end of last week.