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Pennsylvania

PennDOT works on updating payment system at license centers

| Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

The sign greets customers with an admission of guilt for the potential inconvenience ahead.

“Sorry … We cannot accept CASH,” reads the dark-green plaque. “Please make your CHECK or MONEY ORDER payable to PennDOT.”

This is the counter sign at the Smithfield Street driver's license center in Downtown Pittsburgh, and this is the limitation at 70 PennDOT centers statewide. Checks and money orders are the only accepted forms of payment — for now.

That could change as early as next year.

“We are already working to implement the acceptance of credit and debit cards and anticipate deploying in 2016,” said Craig Yetter, spokesman for PennDOT's driver and vehicle services.

The effort is designed “to help our customers save time and money,” Yetter said.

State Rep. Brad Roae, R-Meadville, was surprised by the policy this month when he brought his 16-year-old daughter Rachael to obtain her learner's permit. He carried only a debit card and cash in his wallet.

“I assume it's happened to other people, unless everyone else knows they only take checks and money orders,” he said. “I go days at a time without using real money.”

When leaving the center to pick up a money order, Roae circulated a co-sponsor memo among his colleagues to gather support for a proposal to make PennDOT start the system.

Customers at driver counters in other states can opt to use cards; Maryland's Motor Vehicle Administration accepts Visa, MasterCard and American Express, according to its website. In New York state, offices accept most credit cards, prepaid cards, and debit cards that don't require a pin number. At Ohio's Bureau of Motor Vehicles locations, drivers can renew their one-year registration using debit and credit cards at one of nine self-service terminals throughout the state.

Theresa Pardo, director for the Center for Technology in Government at the University at Albany, said a government implementing a credit card system is charged with integrating a process into a system. Governments have to ensure the financial information stored in their system is safe from hackers, Pardo said.

It doesn't happen overnight.

“Integrating a technology into this kind of legacy environment takes time,” she said. “On one hand, we should be grateful to government for being responsible with our financial information. On the other side is frustration. We say, ‘How long can it possibly take?' ”

In Pennsylvania, starting a credit and debit card system will cost $3 million to $4 million, Yetter said, and about $1.8 million a year after that. He compared the convenience it will offer to the automated queue system at 27 driver's license centers statewide. The electronic system to track customers waiting in line reduced wait times 65 percent at the Mercer County location, Yetter said.

Amanda Rivera, 26, a North Side resident, stopped at the Downtown center to get an identification card last week. She said she'd rather write a check or money order to avoid the risk of card numbers getting hacked.

“Not everyone minds paying $1.50 for a money order,” she said.

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or mdaniels@tribweb.com.

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