TRENTON, NJ – Sue Fulton read a recent tweet from a man who had arrived at his local Motor Vehicle Commission agency site and, in short time, gleefully walked away with his new license plates.
Even Fulton, the head of the much-maligned and often-mocked state department, had to admit that such words of praise are few and far between these days.
Amid a storm of complaints of long lines flooding social media sites, she launched into damage control mode on Friday at Gov. Phil Murphy’s COVID-19 briefing.
Fulton painted a picture of 1,200 MVC employees around the state toiling to meet public demand and maintain safety protocols enacted in response to the health crisis.
“We know that no one wakes up in the morning excited, ‘Today’s the day I get to go to the DMV,’” Fulton said. “We know everyone loves to hate Motor Vehicles. And we know during this pandemic it’s been very difficult. The lines have been awful. I’ve been out there. I’ve heard the complaints. I’ve heard the suggestions.
“We’ve tried to help people. There are special situations where we are able to deal with someone who has a disability. For seniors, for people who are immuno-compromised, we deal with those situations one on one. But, our folks have been working tirelessly to implement new systems, process transactions faster than before and keep everyone safe.”
Fulton said that at some of the 39 agency locations across the state, workers are more efficiently serving the public than before the COVID-19 pandemic forced those locations to close for more than three months – creating a backlog of work.
For instance, in 2019, the commission was processing an average of 240,000 transactions per week. Fulton said that in recent weeks, the agency has done between 250,000 and 285,000.
This can be partly attributed to the MVC’s decision to move 20 or so vehicle transactions online and expand payment options. In 2019, less than 40% of vehicle registrations and 20% of license renewals were done online. Since the MVC reopened June 29, almost 70% of registrations and 55% of license renewals are done on the MVC website.
Fulton also said that average wait times for road tests, driver knowledge tests, commercial driver license testing and inspections are all down to pre-COVID-19 levels.
The MVC also got a boost from two laws Murphy signed Thursday night, one that extends the validity of driver’s license photo for four years.
“That means you will come visit us once every 12 years instead of once every eight,” Fulton said. “If you are 65 or over, your photo is valid indefinitely and transaction can be done online.”
Although Fulton doesn’t seem to take it personally when New Jersey residents trash the MVC on social media, Fulton does have an issue with some of the misinformation perpetuated through Facebook and the like.
She emphasized that residents don’t have to camp out at agency sites and don’t need to stand online all day.
The MVC issues tickets to those in line at 8 a.m. Workers will take resident’s phone numbers and contact them when they’re ready to serve them.
She said this system has been safe and effective, even as paperwork from the booming used car business increase the workload for the MVC.
“I think you’ve been very good about this and hats off to you and your colleagues who are chopping through a once-in-a-century tsunami and backlog,” Murphy said. “I know when folks say they are frustrated, you don’t back down from that. You share their frustration and you know that getting folks the answers that they need, particularly the how.”