Motorists exhibit camaraderie on crazy-long lines at the DMV

Newton. The Covid-19 lock-down created a four-month backlog at the Newton Motor Vehicle Agency. Residents brought guitars, games, and loads of patience and humor as they waited at least six hours in line for registrations, titles, and license plates.

Newton /
21 Jul 2020 | 12:25

The civil society was alive and well in Sussex County on Saturday and Monday, as residents patiently waited at least six hours in line for registrations, titles, and license plates at the Newton Motor Vehicle Agency.

New Jersey Motor Vehicle Agencies (MVA) throughout the state are all experiencing long lines due to the four-month backlog created by the Covid-19 lock-down.

Raymond Smith Jr. said he arrived at the Newton MVA around 5 a.m. on Saturday morning, received #81 in line, and finished around 11 a.m. (The MVA opens at 8 a.m.)

He, along with other residents, brought a folding chair and an umbrella, while others brought portable fans, and even a guitar.

Smith said the MVA probably could have partially opened during the lock-down as an essential service. However, he understood the concerns, because he lost his father to Covid-19 on April 20.

“It kind of hits home for me in a big way,” he said. Smith added that the Newton facility “is actually run really well,” and that he’s gone there for a very long time. “Usually it is in and out – very efficient,” he said.

His dad, 97 at the time of his death, was a World War II veteran living at the Belle Reve Senior Living nursing facility in Milford, Pa. Smith said someone brought Covid-19 into the nursing home, and nine people on his dad’s floor died.

DMV warriors

Todd Tracy was #3 in line, and had been waiting at the MVA since 1:30 a.m., armed with cell phones, games, and music.

Juan Martin arrived around 2 a.m. and received ticket #4. “You have to sacrifice,” he said.

On Saturday, Martin had waited from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. -- five hours. He said he was the last person who did not get in, even though they closed at 3 p.m. “It is a difficult time,” he said. The security guard told Martin, “‘I will see you Monday,’ so I came back.”

Peter V. arrived at 4:30 a.m. and received ticket #35. He said he was halfway down the street toward the cemetery. At around 8:30 a.m., he said, “It’s all good. I could use a cold beer right now.” Peter had also been at the MVA on Saturday for three hours, but they did not have any more coupons. He, too, returned on Monday.

Lauren Dayya recommended a more efficient appointment system, similar to that used in Connecticut and New York. In Connecticut, she said, “You sign up on-line for an appointment, and you are in and out in ten minutes.”

Humor survives

Kim Whitehead said she also arrived around 4:30 a.m. “My only day off,” she said with a laugh.

Todd Tracy joked, “Do you want the #3 ticket? It’s for sale. Auction it off for the highest bidder.”

Further back in line, Dave Polaski, line holder #62, said he would like to know, “What is the formula Trenton has for this? -- Like KFC’s special formula.” Polaski arrived at 5 a.m. and was still cheerful.

Joking, Polaski said, “I’ll give 100 bucks for #3,” and “I’m selling my spot. Tell the guy in 300, I’m selling the spot up here.”

‘Plan, or plan to fail’

James Noble said, “I would like to tell the governor that this is a colossal waste of time. Does he assume because everyone is already unemployed, we have all this time to waste.” He said he is not unemployed and was missing work to stand in line. Also, the state did not come up with a solution for drop-off of transfer title and registration during the four -month furlough time period. Furthermore, he said, he has emailed his state senator and congressman and is still waiting for a response.

Kim Caputo said her alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. Her husband said, “Happy Birthday!

“Shhhhhh,” she replied.

She, too, said the MVA had four months to think about the reopening. “Plan, or plan to fail,” she said. “They really need to come up with a more efficient way.”

Matt Graney brought his guitar to play and help pass the time, as he gave moral support to a friend. They had arrived at 7:30 a.m. and were number 108 in line.

Another man said other agencies were already full to capacity around 8:30 a.m. “What are you going to do? Everybody has to be safe,” he said.

Someone on the way out of the MVA warned the people in line, “You have to wait inside also.”

William Connolly, a Motor Vehicle Commission spokesperson, said the MVC “offers services by appointment for longer processes like road tests and written tests. For shorter variable transactions, appointment-only systems are notoriously inefficient. No-show rates from 30 to 50 percent, and employees end up with significant slack time.”

Although the state is expanding online transactions, the law still requires certain transactions to be done in-person. The agency cannot add staff or hours because the financial crisis caused by Covid-19. An appointment-only system would push many transactions out by months, and add to the backlog rather than clearing it up.

Ways to avoid lines

Connolly suggested some ways to avoid lines:

License and registration extension: Wait until at least Sept. 30 (anyone with an expiration date after March 1). Transactions that can be completed online will not be available in person at this time.

Working to increase online transactions: new registration codes; Speed transactions in agencies: Licensing Centers and Vehicle Centers.

“As we move forward with operations during the public health emergency, we appreciate the patience of the public, and we will work to improve our customer service each and every day,” Connolly wrote.