TAMPA — Attention Publix shoppers: Hillsborough County motorists can now renew their car registrations in less time than it takes to order a Publix sub at one of the first three area supermarkets to install self-service kiosks.
Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden announced the “Florida MV Express” program’s expansion Tuesday morning inside the grocery chain’s Shoppes of Citrus Park location at 7835 Gunn Highway. The bright blue and yellow automated kiosks are also up and running in two other Publix locations: Plant City’s Walden Woods store at 2202 James L Redman Parkway and the Lake Brandon Plaza Publix at 11255 Causeway Blvd.
“This is huge for us,” Belden said Tuesday. "Especially as our county continues to grow, we’ve been looking for ways to take the pressure off of our customer service representatives in different ways with emerging and cutting-edge technology. You can’t just keep building more branches.”
Belden’s office became the first agency in Florida to adopt the automated kiosks with a soft launch in early February at four of its busiest tax collector locations: in Brandon, Drew Park, North Tampa and Ruskin.
Since then, those four kiosks have processed more than 20,000 vehicle registrations, Belden said. The three Publix kiosks, only operational for a few days, have already renewed 160 vehicle registrations.
It’s a promising start, said Brian West, the supermarket’s Media and Community Relations Manager.
“Hillsborough was the first county in Florida to do this, but for Publix, these are the first stores in our entire footprint to have these kiosks — and we operate in seven states,” West said.
Of all the transactions conducted by the tax collector’s office, renewing vehicle registrations is by far the most common, Director of Branch Operations Dale Hoffman said. The department processes an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 registration renewals a month and more than 1 million a year. And even though the tax collector’s office offers renewals online and by mail, last year about 640,000 renewals were conducted in person at the tax collector’s branch locations.
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On average, fewer than 50 employees work through 1,000 customers a day at any one of the agency’s satellite locations, Hoffman said.
“We’re excited because we’re always working to streamline things, reduce wait times and get people in and out of our offices more effectively and efficiently,” Belden said. “This is a huge step forward in this public-private partnership and if it’s is a success, this has the potential, like in other states, to be all over the place.”
Unlike the online renewal process, which can take several days for processing, the new kiosks allow customers to walk away with a new registration card and license plate sticker in less than two minutes, Belden said.
Similar to ATMs, the self-serve kiosks feature large touch screens with easy-to-follow prompts in both English and Spanish. Customers only need proof of insurance and their renewal notice or most recent vehicle registration card to complete the transaction and can pay the renewal fee and any applicable late fees with cash or by debit or credit card.
Customers can use the kiosks to process renewals up to three months early, or pay a late fee if their current registration is expired. The kiosk won’t renew vehicle registrations for customers with outstanding insurance, driver’s license or toll violations, said Nancy Millan, the office’s director of community relations.
Vehicle registration kiosks have long been mainstays in grocery stores in California, Colorado, Hawaii and at least a dozen other states. But bringing the customer service innovation to Florida first required about two years of negotiations with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, rewrites to state legislation and another year of negotiations with Publix executives, Belden said.
Now that the groundwork is laid, the Polk County Tax Collector’s office has already introduced kiosks to its Davenport and Lakeland branch locations.
In the Citrus Park grocery store, the new kiosk fit perfectly in a row with a Florida Lottery vending machine, an ATM, kiosks for coin counting and check cashing and a Redbox movie rental machine.
It’s just the latest in an arsenal of add-ons the supermarket uses to attract customers, West said. In Citrus Park, shoppers can take cooking classes, pick up prescriptions at a drive-thru pharmacy window and video conference with physicians across the country using the store’s “Walk-In Care” telemedicine kiosks.
“The grocery store industry is one of the most competitive in the world,” West said. “So anything that might provide an extra service for our customers is just one more reason why they should come back the next time they need to pick up groceries.”
Officials said the machines are as secure as ATMs, fully encrypting transmitted data and, like the tax collector’s branch offices, immediately deleting personal data from its memory.
Belden said he hopes his office can find ways to expand the kiosks’ uses and locations. For now, the kiosks can only renew vehicle registrations for personal vehicles and trailers that don’t require an IRS Heavy Vehicle Use Tax or a new license plate to be issued. They can’t renew registrations for autonomous vehicles, government vehicles, boats, mobile homes, or for National Guard or personalized license plates.
The kiosks were provided to Hillsborough County free of charge from developers Intellectual Technology Inc., in exchange for the proceeds from a 2.25 percent fee on credit or debit card payments, Belden said. Kiosks inside the tax collector’s branch locations accept cash payments at no additional charge.