SPRINGFIELD, NJ — Debora Bizzarri along with her husband and 18-year-old son got an early start at the motor vehicle commission station on Saturday: 7:45 a.m. But that didn't help them beat the line, not by a long shot.
It took the Westfield family seven hours to finish their business at the MVC station, where they got their son’s driver’s permit and renewed both parents’ driver’s licenses, Bizzarri said.
“We waited online in the very cold weather standing until 11:45 a.m. when we were able to get in the building,” Bizzarri said. “Getting into the building we were directed to ID verification, and there was an extra hour until we got to have our IDs verified and get a ticket with a number.”
When the trio left the MVC station at 2:45 p.m., people were still waiting in line to get their licenses renewed with only 15 minutes before the station’s closure, she told TAPinto.
The family’s experience is not unique with reports of excessive wait times at the Springfield location and MVC stations across the region, something the state Motor Vehicle Commission said is the result of a federal requirement for issuing identification cards with increased security measures. The long lines have not only raised the ire of residents, they’ve caught the eye of a state assemblyman.
Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, R-Westfield, is calling for the Motor Vehicle Commission to extend the deadline for drivers to renew their licenses in light of the spread of the novel coronavirus, something that has prompted school closures, remote learning at some universities and the state to declare a public health emergency.
“Why would you make people wait for hours and hours and hours when it’s not their fault?” Bramnick told TAPinto. “We’re in a state of emergency, so the governor can surely lift the expiration dates, otherwise you’re going to have somebody driving down the streets get pulled over who can’t spend six hours in line, and now they may even tow the car.”
New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission spokesman William Connolly said his agency had warned of the anticipated lengthy wait times last month as a consequence of a federal requirement for the new IDs, referred to as Real-ID, for heightened security.
“As NJMVC announced to the media in February, we have expanded access to REAL ID by adding walk-ins,” Connolly said in an email. “We cautioned this would increase wait times at our agencies, and it has. Meanwhile, the Director of the US Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged that only 1/3 of drivers in the US have REAL IDs, so expect long lines across the country throughout the summer.”
According to Connolly, the wait times peaked at only three hours on Monday at the Springfield DMV.
“Administrators at our Springfield location reported — at its peak — a three-hour wait on Monday,” according to Connolly, who said “many customers are coming into an agency to conduct transactions that can be conducted online.”
Amy Paternite, of South Orange, however, said her 17-year-old daughter, Sofie, waited at the Springfield DMV for nearly six hours until she obtained her license. The line out to the door stretched to across the street, Paternite said. That was in addition to the time Sofie Paternite spent taking her driver’s test at the DMV station in Wayne, the mother said.
“She started out in Wayne at 8 o’clock in the morning to do the driving exam, but it was going to be too many hours to wait in Wayne so her driver dropped her off in Springfield,” said Amy Paternite, who eventually picked up her daughter at 4:20 p.m. Paternite brought her concerns to Bramnick who has learned the issues is not limited to Springfield’s DMV station.
On Wednesday, the assemblyman visited MVC stations in Rahway and Newark, posting live video of long lines to his Facebook page and asked that Gov. Phil Murphy extend the timeline for license renewals.
The governor’s press office referred TAPinto to a press briefing at which Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver deferred the Motor Vehicle Commission’s judgment on next steps.
“Every hour we’re surveying the area,” Oliver told reporters Tuesday. “And I am certain if the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles feels that that step needs to be taken, I’m sure she’ll make a recommendation.”
Could technology be to blame?
Last month, Westfield 18-year-old Ryan Billings said he waited at the Springfield DMV station for two hours on a Tuesday morning in an effort to upgrade his probationary license to a full license but left empty-handed.
“A woman made an announcement that ‘the entire system had shut down’ and they ‘had no estimate as to how long it would take to be running again,’” Billings told TAPinto.
He said the same announcement came on approximately every 30 minutes reminding customers they could go to another MVC station or wait. Employees told Billings the issue had to do with wireless connectivity, he said.
Meanwhile, the MVC is advising the public to conduct as many transactions online as possible. Changes of address, replacing a lost or stolen license and license renewals are among the transactions that customers may complete on the state Motor Vehicle Commission’s website, Connolly said.
“That said, the longer wait times we are seeing are due to REAL ID, not due to standard renewals,” he said.
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