Outside the Motor Vehicle Commission office in Somerville a line of hundreds of customers wrapped around the parking lot and around the corner.
“This doesn’t make any sense. You got people getting coffee, but nobody can’t get their license and registrations done. That makes no sense to me,” said East Orange resident Paul Bell.
“I been here since 6 a.m. I have to register a used vehicle that I bought, title and get a plate for it,” said Middlesex resident Robert Spock. “I think this is a joke. I don’t think the governor’s doing a good job.”
“I got here at 7 o’clock but I’ve been waiting for three months because I bought a car and I can’t get it registered,” said Middlesex resident Debbie Mayo.
“I’ll wait here all day if I have to. All day. Even if they work around the clock, I’ll work around the clock, waiting here too,” said Carteret resident Viz Abreu.
Chaotic crowding plagued New Jersey motor vehicle agencies devoted to licensing and registration. They reopened Tuesday for the first time since the pandemic lockdown began in mid-March and are faced with a huge backlog of 60,000 New Jerseyans desperate for documentation and plates. But to maintain social distancing, many agencies have cut their capacity to handle transactions by two-thirds. The result?
“This is the perfect storm. A small facility, the numbers inside have been reduced because of COVID restrictions. Plus the backlog. Plus the fact that a lot of the titles cannot be done online. They have to be done in person,” said Somerville Mayor Dennis Sullivan.
Large crowds reportedly caused law enforcement to close at least four overwhelmed motor vehicle agencies early in Lodi, Oakland, Wallington and Lakewood.
Somerville’s mayor hoped people would stay calm. “It’s hot. People are on edge. They’re frustrated. And I just hope as New Jersey has done over the past few months, we pull together and try to tough it out and make the best of a difficult situation,” said Sullivan.
The reopening was delayed until the Motor Vehicle Commission’s text notification system was ready to go. It’s now in use.
The agency said the system is working properly, but to get a coveted text time slot people had to wait for hours in line and sign up at the agency door. Longtime critic Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-Union) said the commission should have told people that they couldn’t get to them.
“Instead, you allow hundreds of people in a pandemic, in the heat, stand outside — stand outside with no information. How do you treat people like that? This is not whether there’s a problem or a delay. I get all that. It’s how you disrespect people,” he said.
In a statement, agency chief Sue Fulton said, ” … personnel were pre-deployed to our busiest agencies, beginning at 6:00 AM, two hours before our start time. Additionally, all of our senior staff in operations are deployed to agencies to help process transactions … Our employees are doing the best they can to keep everyone safe and work as efficiently as possible.”
Expect more traffic jams throughout the week.