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More complicated than any official procedure

For the past five months, almost everything related to vehicle registration has been child's play thanks to the Internet – actually. But car owners and municipalities are failing in droves.

Yuri Sonnenholzner

That looked feasible: everything on the registration office's checklist together, vehicle documents, a user account with “BundID”, online-capable ID card with activated “eID function” including a six-digit PIN, smartphone with “AusweisApp2”, electronic insurance confirmation – that's how the new one should be approved Used from home can quickly be crowned with success. According to the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital, “i-Kfz”, the “internet-based vehicle registration”, makes this possible throughout Germany.

A bad deal for the municipalities

Since 2015, it has been possible to apply for the decommissioning of vehicles online, and registration or re-registration for private individuals was added in 2019. In stage four, the state reduced the fees for all registration processes via the Internet in September and gave car dealers and registration service providers access without going to the authorities. A “small revolution in administrative digitalization,” as a spokesman for the Federal Ministry calls it.

That's why “i-Kfz” hasn't become a hit: According to figures from the Federal Motor Transport Authority, usage doubled to 300,000 processes in the fall. However, this number seems small compared to around 20 million processes per year overall. It's a bad deal for municipalities because they had to invest in the changes and IT infrastructure over the years and in return they now receive lower fees with low user numbers.

Peel off or scratch off?

On the website of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital, it is tempting to say: “No waiting time and no need to go to the authorities”. Well then, let's start experimenting yourself. 40 minutes and many online form fields later, a completely non-digital field stands in the way of the registration process: “Security code in the green field of the registration certificate Roman two: uncover”. This is an area on the vehicle registration document in which a transaction code is hidden.

But: Does “exposing” mean rubbing or peeling off a protective film? Numerous internet video tutorials do not help; depending on the issuing authority or year, both are possible. Many vehicle registration documents have a note – this one doesn't. Several minutes of inspection and unsuccessful scratching suggest that there is a peel-off film.

“Disastrous usage figures”

Do you want to lend a hand to an official document yourself? “There is an enormous amount of uncertainty among citizens when it comes to these codes – and their invalidation. This is a deterrent, and many prefer to accept the waiting times in office,” explains Philipp Gräfe from the Ruhr University Bochum. Together with colleagues from the University of Potsdam, he examined the digitalization process in vehicle registration offices. An exemplary result: Even in 2021, at the height of the pandemic, 100,000 views of the portal of a district examined resulted in just 1,000 applications being sent.

The administrative scientist is currently working on a more recent study. “Internet-based vehicle registration was actually supposed to be the flagship project of German administrative digitalization. It was supposed to get people to activate 'BundID' or the online function of the ID card. That clearly didn't work. We see disastrous results with 'i-Kfz' Usage figures.”

The code has disappeared

After 78 minutes of “field testing”, the condition of the safety zone was also disastrous: after loosening it with a knife, it emerged: nothing. The coating, however, is pulverized, which is not surprising since a vehicle registration document has had to withstand the temperature fluctuations of a vehicle interior for several years – very hot in summer, very cold in winter – and the mixture used to cover the code obviously forms an inseparable material bond with the paper is.

Comforting: Admissions professionals fail similarly. “The person who develops a device that is guaranteed to reveal the security codes in a readable way will earn a lot of money,” says Cedric Dekowski with a smile. He is a registration service provider in Mainz and primarily handles registration formalities for car dealerships and companies with vehicle fleets throughout Germany. The demand is increasing because car dealers are increasingly selling their cars over the Internet, which are then delivered, fully registered, to a registration district far away. There is a separate data interface for large customers. But: “The process with software and certificates is complex and does not guarantee that the relevant approval office will work with it,” says Dekowski.

“Loss of money and time”

He is a member of the “Premiumzulasser” cooperative, the largest association of approval service providers at more than 100 locations in Germany. “Last year we processed more than 1.6 million registration processes via our system. Theoretically, we could probably carry out 60 to 70 percent of them digitally. But at the moment we only do a maximum of 1,500 per month via 'i-Kfz'. That means unnecessary work and loss of money and time,” says CEO Florian Cichon angrily.

While the federal government is advertising that the introduction of the fourth and final stage of “i-Kfz” will “completely automate registration processes,” there are still too many clerks involved. Cichon: “Recently, 30 percent of our approval processes were fully automated and 70 percent have returned to the manual process.”

More tedious than at the counter

This is confirmed by the interim results of the administrative scientist Philipp Gräfe. And worse: “What department heads tell us: New, manual processes have even been introduced within the administration. For example, clerks have to reprint registration documents and stickers using the online process and then send them by post.”

If the user was inaccurate and, for example, forgot their reported middle name, a correspondence is triggered. “This makes the 'i-Kfz' process more tedious than at the counter. A new time delay that contradicts what we imagine by digitalization,” reports Gräfe about his initial surprise. “The guiding principle of digitalization is taken somewhat to the point of absurdity at ‘i-Kfz’.

Meanwhile, whoever's online application is processed digitally and analogue in a timely manner can be lucky: “Many registration offices are not yet able to process 'i-Kfz' at all,” says Cichon. He only counts 100 registration offices out of more than 400 with which you can actually work together online. “Due to a lack of staff, workload, illness or IT change.”

The danger lurks online

Or because of cyber attacks: When criminals attacked the network of a municipal service provider in North Rhine-Westphalia at the end of October, several registration offices were unable to work for weeks and months. The only thing that helped was administrative assistance from other registration offices, where vehicles in neighboring municipalities could be registered – but only with the local license plate.

Those cyber attacks put “i-Kfz” under further pressure: The Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) withdrew the “i-Kfz” registration from around 40 registration offices because they did not meet security requirements. “And the KBA also gave 230 exemptions that are not comprehensible,” says Cichon. “Among these is an operator that serves about 80, 90 offices. Imagine if a cyber attack took out 90 licensing offices.”

Nobody wants to be responsible

Helmut Dedy, General Manager of the German Association of Cities, refers to the Federal Ministry of Transport's short deadlines: “Only two days before, on August 30th, the minimum security requirements were published in the Federal Gazette. Only after this publication could the cities take action.”

A spokesman for the KBA, however, says that the minimum security requirements were already made available in April. “That doesn’t matter,” said Kay Ruge, deputy general manager of the German District Council, about this indirect attribution of blame. “On this basis, no one could act 'in the dark'.” A spokesman for the responsible Federal Ministry sees it differently: “Around 75 percent of the registration authorities that are currently i-vehicle compatible show that it is possible to meet the technical requirements.”

“Every one-euro scratch card is better”

Private individuals, companies and approval service providers seem to be caught in the digitalization disaster between the federal government, states, municipalities and their IT service providers. After all: “The 'i-Kfz' process is still one of the better digital processes compared to the digitalization of other administrative areas,” states scientist Gräfe.

And when it comes to vehicle registration in particular, a small, digital light can be seen: “90 percent of municipalities have online appointment systems and therefore short waiting times – so why should the population go through this digital registration process?” That's how the admissions professional Cichon sees it: “It's better to hire an admissions service provider or see when the next appointment is at the admissions office. If it's not in two or three weeks, the digitalized version is ultimately actually slower than the visit to the office .”

That visit also became necessary after the “security code in the green field of the registration certificate Roman two: uncover” process failed. “We have that all the time here,” the understanding clerk explains later in the stone and concrete registration office. “Every one-euro scratch card from the kiosk is better.”

Torben Ostermann, ARD Berlin, tagesschau, February 11, 2024 11:41 a.m

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