BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — For drivers, the new year means a number of things, such as booking your annual car inspection.

For others, it can mean renewing drivers licenses or car registrations or both, which calls for a trip to the DMV. But as News 4 found, it’s not your parents’ DMV anymore.

The COVID pandemic has forced a number of changes in the way government offices interact with the public — some temporary, some permanent. For those who need government services, we have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. At the DMV, they seem to be getting better.

When the state DMV opened back up for business, many drivers turned to the internet, doing their renewals directly with the state, while local auto bureaus went to appointments-only.

Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns has opened the five county auto bureaus to walk-ins — as have most other local DMV’s. But Kearns says appointments will get most consumers in and out in a matter of minutes.

“This is not the old days of the Auto Bureau where you walked into a packed facility,” he said. “Obviously for the confidence of the public, we want to make sure people feel confident when they come in.”

Kearns told News 4, by setting appointments, the clerk’s office can better assigned staff to their five bureaus, while keeping customers at safe numbers and socially distanced. By renewing licenses and registrations locally, the county also gets a share of the revenues.

“If you start with us, we will support you, we have people you can talk to,” Kearns added. “As you can see we are making sure people get one-on-one good service.”

Truth be told, I needed to renew my car registration. I called ahead, got an appointment and within about five minutes, paid the fees at the window and got my new registration. While renewing with the state can take at least a week, or as Lee Kozlowski of Clarence told us, more than a week, and cause more problems, after her husband applied to the state a month ago.

“He finally got ahold of them yesterday and said we haven’t received it yet,” she said. “They said it is taking four to five weeks before you even get it. So they sent us a temporary registration.”

With that temporary registration about to expire, Lee went to the Auto Bureau at the Eastern Hills Mall, and she too was back on the road in less than 10 minutes.

“I would rather do this — come here, get it over with, and be done,” she said.

To renew your car registration locally, make an appointment through the county clerk’s website at this link or by phone at 716-858-8864, and get your new registration at the Auto Bureau, within minutes. Alternatively, you can mail in your application.

Al Vaughters is an award-winning investigative reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1994. See more of his work here. To submit a Call 4 Action, click here.

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