TRENTON – The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) and its predecessor, the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV), have never been known as paragons of public service. The MVC, established in 2003, was supposed to fix that.
A June 14 press conference held by Sen. Michael Testa and Assemblymen Antwan McClellan and Erik Simonsen (all R-1st) was the latest evidence that there’s still a long way to go.
The agency’s governing commission is composed of eight members. Four are appointed by Gov. Phil Murphy. Three others are cabinet members, including the state attorney general, state treasurer, and commissioner of the state Department of Transportation (DOT). The eighth member is Chief Administrator Sue Fulton, appointed by Murphy in 2018.
The nature of the commission composition puts the MVC and its problems squarely in the governor’s purview. There is no one on the commission who has not been appointed by him directly or indirectly.
The pandemic played havoc with MVC services, as it did with everything else. Throughout the last year, state residents were asked to be patient, as the MVC cleared an enormous backlog and continued to deal with quarantining of employees. In February, MVC spokesperson Michael Connelly announced, “The backlog is cleared.” The problems were not.
During the recent press conference outside the North Cape May MVC office, one resident posted on Facebook her complaint about having to travel to Medford to title an additional vehicle. She was not alone.
Stories of 80-mile trips for standard services abound. The core of the problem appears to be the MVC’s structure and its lack of full-service locations, an issue that the First District Legislative team has been hammering the MVC on for months.
According to one count, the MVC has 71 locations across the state and roughly 2,300 employees. None of the locations is full-service. There are inspection stations, driving test stations, licensing centers, vehicle centers, and even five locations listed as regional centers. None offer full service for the customer.
The Rio Grande licensing center (the name persists four years after the location was moved), in North Cape May, is not a vehicle center. In fact, there are only four vehicle centers, out of 16, located in southern New Jersey, with one in Gloucester County, two in Camden County, and one in Burlington County.
There is not a vehicle center in Salem, Cumberland, Atlantic, and Cape May counties. There is no vehicle center anywhere in the First Legislative District.
The response from MVC to complaints about the distribution of its various service locations has been to put the burden on the customer. In May, an MVC spokesperson noted that “75% of transactions can be completed online.” The MVC said that the persistent problem is that “people continue to go in person for things they can accomplish online.” This, the MVC claims, “clogs the system for everyone.”
However, there are several types of customers, including those who do not have access to a computer or high-speed connection, those (often seniors) who find online forbidding, those who want to better understand a transaction and are frustrated with call center experiences, or those who prefer an in-person experience and the satisfaction of walking away with a completed transaction. All these and more are out there. They should be anticipated and will not disappear.
The public may need a better, more comprehensive understanding of why it is so difficult to have vehicle and licensing services in one location. The progress in moving so many functions online is a positive step in customer service. It is probably the principal reason the backlog was able to be cleared. Moving so many routine transactions to online venues should make full-service, in-person centers more viable.
Testa is one of the sponsors of a bill in the Senate Transportation Committee that would require the MVC to provide vehicle and licensing services in each of the state’s 21 counties. No committee votes have yet been held on the bill.
County Commissioner Director Gerald Thornton noted at the press conference that hard-working employees of the MVC are taking the hit of largely structural service problems. He also noted that even in the county, the MVC’s choice of location makes little sense.
“It should be more centrally located,” Thornton said.
Several individuals used the press conference and Facebook to thank Testa and the other officials for keeping a continuous focus on MVC service problems in Cape May County.
To contact Vince Conti, email email@example.com.
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