TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A passport renewal pilot program rolled out last year to save “time and effort” is now shelved, as Tampa Bay travelers wait for their travel documents and wonder if the new system was part of the problem.

Anne Bartlett said that an employee with a private company she went to for expedite her passport renewal had told her a U.S. State Department passport computer system “crashed” in March.

“And he said it dumped all of those renewals back into the general pool and it put them at a huge deficit,” Bartlett said. “That whole population that had gone online suddenly flooded the renewal market. So, then it put everybody behind.”

State Department spokesperson Christopher Ashcraft said Online Passport Renewal (OPR) was released “as a pilot” last February and expanded to the public in August.

“We have closed the limited release of OPR to allow us to review the service and make improvements to the customer experience,” Ashcraft said. “We expect to launch OPR to the public at the end of 2023.”

According to Ashcraft, the system did help 565,000 customers submit their applications and he said 99% of those have been completed.

According to the State Department, 500,000 applications a week are being processed. That is 30% to 40% more than the record pace from last year when 22 million were processed.

In May, Congress sent a letter with several questions about passport delays to the State Department. It was signed by several lawmakers including four from the Tampa Bay area.

The document states “passport processing challenges have coincided with the beta-test rollout of the OPR system.”

“Were the potential risks of opting-in to OPR, such as longer processing times, errors, or lack of access to human assistance, made clear to applicants?” the lawmakers asked.

According to the letter, Congress started hearing about OPR-related delays last November.

Bartlett is a member of Ye Loyal Krewe of Grace O’Malley, a 30-year participant in the Gasparilla parade. The Tampa business owner and 43 other crew members planned a trip to Ireland months ago.

Bartlett said State Department personnel told her earlier this week there was not a single appointment available at any day-of passport facilities in the entire country. In an eleventh-hour plan, she decided to go to the passport office in Miami and wait in line without an appointment.

Bartlett arrived before the sun came up early Thursday morning.

“I was second in line,” Bartlett said. “I thought I was in.”

While she waited to find out she was not in, she heard several others share travel emergencies worse than hers.

“I hear that people were traveling because they have sick relatives or they had business they had to take care of with their families,” Bartlett said. “But they weren’t taking anybody at the door. Absolutely no one at the door no matter what.”

Meanwhile, Bartlett continues to wait.

“My passport is being processed in Seattle,” Bartlett said. “My courier service is supposed to get it in the mail and overnight express it to my house before I travel at 7 PM on Sunday.”

She chuckled about her chances.

“So, are you a betting man?” Bartlett asked.