"Everybody hates the MVA," she fumed.

Well, not everybody.

Maryland's motor vehicle administrator, John T. Kuo, said wait times actually decreased from 2001 to 2011, even as Maryland added a half-million residents and MVA staffing dropped by 15 percent. He said average wait times have dropped from just over 35 minutes to 20-22 minutes, while the typical transaction still takes 5-6 minutes.

Kuo said serving more people with a smaller staff has forced the agency to innovate. Among other measures, the MVA plans to allow Marylanders to renew their driver's licenses online starting next year. Prospective drivers will still have to appear in person to get an initial Maryland license.

As more of the MVA's simple tasks migrate to electronic systems such as the Internet or voice-recognition service, customers in the offices may see a change, Kuo said. Waiting times may decrease, he said, but the transactions may be more complex and take more time.

Some changes have already been implemented or are underway, Kuo said. For instance, most title renewals can be handled at an electronic kiosk or online. He said kiosks have now been installed in all MVA offices, some offering round-the-clock access.

He also noted that the agency posts wait times online. Late Wednesday morning, the MVA website (http://www.mva.maryland.gov/) showed that there were 13 customers in line for driver's license renewals at the Baltimore office, with a maximum wait time of 48 minutes.

Kuo said wait times at the city branch have dropped since the agency moved from Mondawmin. In early August, the average transaction at the Reisterstown Road office was down to 31 minutes from 37.

Kuo also said he's well aware of the problems in Essex. One factor, he said, is the 10,000-square-foot facility — too small to keep up with demand.

The MVA is looking for a larger replacement, he said. The agency also is exploring an expansion in Howard County — the only metropolitan jurisdiction without a full-service office — where a small express office is located in a Columbia strip mall.

Kuo, who has been MVA chief since 2006, said the agency cannot simply focus on getting customers in and out quickly. The agency also must meet its other goals of promoting highway safety and ensuring the integrity of the identification-issuing process, he said.

But he said the agency's goal is to limit the need for Maryland drivers to appear at an office in person. More services will be provided by appointment only, cutting wait times and reducing the spikes in demand from unpredictable walk-in traffic.

Part of the challenge, Kuo said, is nudging a minority of customers, who insist on going through the lines, into using automated services. "Our new world is: We love all our customers but we don't have to see them," Kuo said.

Michael.dresser@aol.com