As if learning how to parallel park weren’t challenging enough, New Jersey teens are facing an additional roadblock as they seek to obtain driver’s licenses and learner’s permits.
Teens and other would-be drivers seeking to take the written test or apply for a permit have been unable to procure appointments on the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) website, with no new appointments available for two months.
“I strongly urge the NJ MVC to consider reopening its agencies for all transactions,” said State Sen. Troy Singleton (D-7) in a press statement.
Singleton was one of several lawmakers from both sides of the aisle seeking measures to address the issue. Meantime, MVC’s head says the commission is piloting off-site testing options to ease the backlog those seeking to become licensed drivers in the Garden State.
Off-Site Testing Pilot
MVC Chief Administrator Sue Fulton recently kicked-off of a new pilot program providing off-site testing. The program commenced on Saturday, Sept. 25 in Wanaque in partnership with Passaic Community College using an MVC mobile unit for support.
“We are always adding appointments, though we are currently in a crunch for first permit appointments and knowledge tests,” Fulton said. “We are piloting a new program of off-site testing…If successful, we will be able to add hundreds of test appointments over the next months.”
Murphy reported at a press briefing on Sept. 27 that the Wanaque event “went well and we are looking for more remote opportunities.”
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MVC officials have pointed to factors that are contributing to the lack of available appointments for those seeking driver’s permits and licenses in New Jersey. Among the factors were: historically high demand for permits; health and staffing challenges due to COVID-19; more students seeking individual permits rather than bulk permits processed through schools; and the state’s recent expansion of eligibility for new permits and licenses to the states estimated 450,000 undocumented residents under a law passed in December 2019.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, New Jersey motorists could visit any MVC branch to obtain any service. All MVC offices were closed at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 but reopened in Summer 2020 with long lines and delays. MVC sought to address the problem by requiring appointments, moving some services online, and making some branches licensing centers and others vehicle centers.
State Sen. Anthony M. Bucco (R-25), a long-time MVC critic, had tough words for Murphy in a Sept. 23 Facebook post.
The senator said that since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, “we had to fight to get the Murphy administration to reopen the MVC, digitize services, and offer appointments to end the horrendous lines” that were seen at MVC agencies earlier this year.
“This continued lack of appointments is inexcusable,” Bucco said.
Likewise, Gov. Murphy’s Republican challenger, Jack Ciattarelli added: “In Phil Murphy’s state government, those who follow the rules have to wait for service, or worse yet, get no service at all. We can do better New Jersey. When I’m governor, we will.”
Undocumented Residents Expansion
Ciattarelli’s post generated responses complaining that undocumented residents are now eligible to get permits and licenses, thereby worsening the MVC delays.
State Sen. Jim Holzapfel (R-10) raised the same issue Sept. 23.
“We warned Gov. Murphy that his plan to allow a flood of 450,000 illegal immigrants to go to the MVC to get driver’s licenses would make it hard for legal residents to get through when the system was already plagued with long lines and few appointments. Unfortunately, we were right,” he said on Facebook.
Call to Reopen All MVC Offices
Singleton acknowledged that due to the pandemic, the state government has had to adapt.
“While I appreciate that staffing shortages and tremendous backlogs stemming from the shutdown led to the initial decision to bifurcate the agencies into two distinct categories—licensing centers and vehicle centers—I am hopeful that the increased availability of vaccines and the reopening of our schools for in-person learning will lead to a more stabilized workforce,” Singleton said.
Singleton said his office has tried to address constituents’ MVC needs by partnering with the Commission to schedule three mobile unit events throughout our district “where we bring the MVC directly to our communities.”
‘Need for a More Accessible MVC’
“However, the fact that these events reach capacity within days after we advertise them indicates that there is very much a need for a more accessible MVC,” he added.
“The MVC announced they will use these mobile units to help alleviate the huge demand for knowledge testing and permit appointments. This effort is greatly appreciated, but reopening vehicle centers to offer Real IDs, new licenses, and testing appointments is needed to truly accommodate and service our drivers.”
Murphy defended the agency by noting, “Notwithstanding all of the frustrations and challenges to get reopen and back on our feet, the MVC as we sit here today is clipping along at somewhere between 20-25% more transactions processed per week than pre-COVID. So for all the frustration (for those) waiting for you appointment—and I don’t blame you—but we have made progress.”