Victory was measured by Stephanie Montanez of Hoboken by a set of shiny new license plates she possessed after leaving the state Motor Vehicle Commission agency on Summit Avenue in Jersey City.
That transaction cost her more than four hours in time.
“I was expecting much worse,” Montanez said, who said she arrived at 5:30 a.m., Friday. The line extended down the block and around the corner when she joined it.
“I’m just so excited it went so well,” Montanez said, leaving the agency before 10 a.m. She gave the employees good grades for their work, once she was inside.
Friday marked a week since Governor Phil Murphy signed two laws designed to get people out of agency lines and allow them to do business on the MVC website instead.
Those new laws moved more driver’s license renewals online by allowing drivers to reuse their photos for two online renewals. They also gave new residents 120 days instead of 60 to transfer their licenses and register their vehicles in New Jersey.
That potentially would have taken one person out of the line at the Jersey City agency, who was registering his out of state vehicle.
“I wanted to get it done,” said an unidentified man, who moved from New York and wanted to register his car here before the deadline was up.
For other drivers at the vehicle center, getting to the second step of having their transaction processed after checking in threatened to be a multi-hour wait.
This was the third agency that Jake Slomowitz of Paramus came to on Friday to register a recently purchased car and transfer the registration from another vehicle.
“I went to one in Paterson first and they said this (Jersey City) would be my best bet. tried the one in Wallington and all the tickets were gone,” he said. “I came here…it’s moving a little quicker, but the wait time is one and a half to four hours, which is a lot.”
Of 16 agencies that handle vehicle transactions, 8 had reached their daily customer capacity by noon. The Jersey City agency was one of the remaining agencies still processing customers by noon, according to the MVC website.
What would make the process better?
“Online reservations would make more sense or maybe an app, so you can fill (in) all of this information,” Slomowitz said, holding a handful of forms.
MVC added 20 forms to its website that drivers could fill in, print out and bring to the agency. Slomowitz suggested the MVC set up a system so drivers could electronically send completed forms to the agency.
Murphy cited the state’s “incredibly challenging budget” due to a drop in tax revenues because of the coronavirus, when asked Tuesday about moving form entry online.
“At moment, I’d say no, but the notion is appealing. We keep our minds open to all options to cut those lines down,” he said. “Folks are frustrated and we have nothing but sympathy for them.”
For drivers, such as Ken Cooper of Kinnelon, frustration was two trips to the MVC and a return on Monday.
Once he checked in Friday, Cooper said he was told it was a minimum hour and a half wait until his transaction could be processed. He came to the agency Thursday, but missed the cut-off point of 250 people that could be accommodated in a business day, he said.
“I work in New York, so I just wasted my morning for nothing. I have to come back on Monday and do this over again,” said Cooper who needed to renew an expired registration. That can only be done in person, he said.
“Someone needs to do this better than what it is. If you have kids going to school online, why can’t we do this online?” Cooper suggested.
New York’s DMV takes appointments, he said, having gotten a non-driver’s license state ID card there.
“I know the process (in New York). You set an appointment online and you show up at the time and do what you have to do,” Cooper said. “It’s 100% better than this.”
Appointments may be coming in the future. MVC Chief Administrator Sue Fulton said the MVC plans to shift to appointments and is working with a vendor to have the ability to make appointments for any transaction.
Vincent Elias of Jersey City made it through the process in roughly and hour and fifteen minutes, to register two vehicles.
“It was pretty much what I expected. I heard it was pretty bad,” he said. “I saw the line outside (and) anticipated to be here at least an hour.”
But he had sympathy and some praise for MVC workers in the agency, who processed the two transactions in 45 minutes.
“Based on what’s going on with the pandemic, out of 1 to 10, I give them an 8,” Elias said. “I know they’re doing the best they can. They’re backed up, everyone’s trying to do the same things at once and there’s only so many people they allow inside.”
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Larry Higgs may be reached at [email protected].