If there’s an indication of demand for the state Motor Vehicle Commission’s agencies to reopen, it might be the people who showed up at the Bakers Basin agency in Lawrence Township on Tuesday, looking for answers, even though it won’t open for another six days.
Opening day for agencies is June 29, and it will only be for limited transactions that can’t be done online. MVC officials have to process a three-month backlog of these transactions and make sure customers follow the new rules to prevent spread of the coronavirus.
In an exclusive tour, Chief Administrator B. Sue Fulton walked a reporter and photographer through the processes and showed what’s changed about going to the motor vehicle agency and how they’ve changed since COVID-19 forced them to close on March 15. Inspection stations also reopen on June 29.
“On the 29th, we will do first time licensing and permits, Real ID and out of state (license) transfers, licenses that expired before the shutdown (at licensing centers),” Fulton said.
Vehicle centers will handle titling and registering vehicles bought from private owners, dealer transactions and surrendering old license plates, all which have to be done in person. Check the MVC website to make sure you go to the correct agency.
Bring the correct forms of identification (9 points of ID for a Real ID license, 6 for a standard license) or the paperwork needed to register and title a vehicle before coming to the agency.
“We don’t want to turn you away,” she said.
You’ll start to notice as soon as you arrive. Red tape on the sidewalk and inside the agency shows where to stand for social distancing, signs in windows remind customers face coverings must be worn. Fewer people will be waiting inside than in the past. Added protection comes from new plexiglass barriers made by MVC facilities workers and installed at customer counters in 39 agencies.
Here are the other changes you’ll encounter:
The first stop is the check-in counter to register, where an employee asks for a phone number, so the agency can text you when to return, said Kim DiGiovanni-Abatto, Deputy Administrator, Agency Operations.
“It’s to minimize the number of people sitting in here. We will give you an idea of how long, so people can wait in their car, shop, or do errands,” she said.
The system, used in other states, is a first in New Jersey, Fulton said, and is designed to reduce crowding.
Leave the kids and family at home
Drivers are asked to come to the MVC alone, because of the limited space, Fulton said. Waiting area capacity was reduced by around two-thirds for social distancing.
Bakers Basin went from a capacity of over 200 to 65 people, Fulton said. Smaller agencies, such as East Orange, have been reduced to 30 customers inside, she said. There are fewer chairs in the waiting area so they can be spaced six feet apart.
More hand sanitizer dispensers have been added to agencies, and employees have alcohol and sanitizing wipes to clean pens and screens. Two weeks after they closed on March 15, all MVC agencies received a deep cleaning, Fulton said. Agencies get a nightly cleaning and disinfecting.
More counters to move people
More windows to serve customers, check license documents and take photos have been created by moving the vehicle transactions out of licensing centers such as Bakers Basin, Fulton said. Cameras from agencies that are now vehicle centers have been brought in to make the process move more efficiently.
Moving licensing functions out of vehicle centers freed up more counters for licensing and registering vehicles, she said.
The deadline to get a federal Real ID license that is accepted at airports for travel was extended to Oct. 1, 2021.
Drivers with a Real ID appointment for June 29 or later can come in on the date and time of that appointment. If the appointment was canceled due to COVID-19, bring the cancellation email to the agency and you can walk in. No new Real ID appointments will be made until the backlog is cleared, Fulton said.
Drivers who didn’t receive an email canceling their Real ID appointment during the shutdown should check their spam or junk email folders first and then email the MVC, she said. You will need to show the email canceling your original appointment.
If you can’t find it there, email the MVC (which is quicker than waiting on the phone) and tell them you didn’t get a cancellation email.
A similar process applies to road tests. Existing road test appointments for June 29 and beyond will not be canceled. Letters have been sent to people who had a road test scheduled during the shutdown that was canceled.
Letters were mailed to people with the oldest road test dates first, she said. A backlog of 60,000 people means letters had to mailed in three phases, and two have been sent, she said.
The letter has a code to reschedule at one of the 11 new road test courses the MVC has set up, Fulton said. That code is valid to make one new appointment, so choose wisely. That prevents people from making multiple appointments and only showing up for one.
Student drivers will be asked at the appointment if they or anyone in their families have coronavirus symptoms, have tested positive or been exposed to it. They must wear face masks for the test.
Right now, written tests aren’t being given until the MVC decides how to socially distance computer test stations in agencies, which are closer then six feet.
Drivers should continue to do online transactions that are offered. Online license renewals have increased 160% and registration renewals were up 80%, Fulton said. Here is a link to the online services.