TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is taking aim at cutting wait times at Motor Vehicle Commission centers after months of reports on computer system failures, customer service complaints and long lines snaking outside the state-run offices.
Christie this month unveiled a host of new proposals he says will help make drivers’ experiences with New Jersey’s 39 MVC offices easier. The announcement came after the commission’s computer system failed this summer, resulting in longer-than-usual wait times, and after a resident called the governor during his regular radio show to complain of difficulty replacing her son’s learner’s permit. Christie also says New Jersey’s requirement that drivers renew licenses by month’s end leads to long lines at MVC stations as motorists rush to meet the deadline.
Some of the proposals are going into effect in the coming weeks, while others will require the Legislature to act.
A closer look at what’s changing and what Christie, a Republican, is proposing:
Christie is calling on the Democrat-led Legislature to send him legislation changing the driver’s license expiration date from the end of the month to the motorist’s birthday. Republican Assembly Anthony Bucco said he plans to sponsor such legislation, and Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said he would consider it.
New Jersey’s neighbors Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York link renewing driver’s licenses to birthdays.
Claire Jeffrey, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, said birthday renewal dates are a strategy that agencies use to improve customer service and some states have seen a reduction in wait times because of that approach.
The current average wait time in June 2016 in New Jersey was 60 minutes, according to MVC spokeswoman Mairin Bellack. She added that mid-month data from the same period show the average wait is 38 minutes and that the 10 most high-volume offices had an average wait time of 54 minutes.
ONLINE TRANSACTION FEES
The administration will eliminate online transaction fees by Oct. 1, Christie said. The fees vary, from $1.50 for renewing registration online, according to Christie’s office, to $15 for obtaining a voter history document, according to the MVC. The state took in $2.6 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to Bellack, and $2.4 million in the previous year.
Drivers might be able to go to one of the roughly dozen AAA offices across the state to renew registrations under a new partnership Christie announced with the club. Cathleen Lewis, spokeswoman for AAA Northeast, says New Jersey would become the 21st state, along with Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New York, to work with AAA to help ease wait times. But she said the details of the partnership are still being worked out.
For example, it’s unclear whether AAA will allow members only to renew at their stores or if all drivers would be eligible.
By early 2017, two mobile MVC units will be on the roads to help with registrations, renewals and other services except for driver testing and titling.
Bucco says the changes will help ease frustrations and make the MVC more efficient.
Motorist Tamara Jakub, 67, of Hamilton, says she has never had a poor experience and that the MVC has always been friendly. Instead, she said she would rather Christie focus more on bigger issues like transportation funding and public pensions. “I think it’s all about publicity,” she said.
Joe Perilli, of Trenton, greeted the changes with a shrug. The trick to getting in and out of the MVC quickly is knowing when to go — right before they close, he said.