The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission in Trenton. (Google Maps)

The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission in Trenton. (Google Maps)

There may no longer be lines down the block at New Jersey’s motor vehicle agencies like there were earlier in the pandemic.

But Motor Vehicle Commission Chief Administrator Sue Fulton said the commission still struggles to serve customers and regain its footing after a nearly four-month closure and persistent demand for services.

“Customer service in the first six months following our closure was unacceptable,” Fulton testified Thursday before the state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. “I would say even today it’s unacceptable for those customers who have an appointment canceled and aren’t able to get another appointment for weeks.”

Fulton said one of the main problems now is that many customers continue making in-person appointments for transactions they could complete online. The MVC moved a host of transactions online during the pandemic, but Fulton said many customers are guided by “old habits” and still want to show up at an agency.

“Appointment demand continues to stubbornly exceed capacity,” said Fulton, who President Joe Biden recently announced he would nominate to become the Assistant Secretary for Manpower and Reserve Affairs at the Department of Defense.

The Motor Vehicle Commission closed its offices on March 15 and didn’t reopen again until early July. At that point, pent-up demand was so high that it led to lengthy lines at offices across the state, spurring an underground economy of people who would hold your spot for a fee.

Although the MVC has cut through its backlog — to the “envy of other states,” Fulton said — it continues to be impacted by COVID-19. Five agencies are currently closed due to a coronavirus outbreak among staff.

Fulton said just nine of the MVC’s 39 agencies are “fully vaccinated,” while staff at another 14 agencies received their first Moderna shot this week.

“But until we complete that vaccination program we’re going to continue to have canceled appointments, and that is an unacceptable burden to the public,” she added.

Starting this Saturday, undocumented immigrants will be able to apply for New Jersey driver’s licenses under a law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in 2019 and supported by immigrant advocates.

Fulton said the MVC is prepared for an increase in demand for driver’s licenses this weekend, but said it shouldn’t impact other agency transactions.

“What we’ve done is we’ve siloed that so that it should not impact anybody who’s getting a renewal, a registration, a title, a lien, an out-of-state transfer. Any of those other transactions shouldn’t be impacted at all.”

Residents can also apply for a federally-compliant Real ID, which allows them to board commercial flights. This week the Biden administration delayed the requirement for travelers to have a Real ID until May 2023.

This article first appeared on WHYY.org.

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