When the pandemic hit New Jersey, it hit the Motor Vehicle Commission hard.
Places are closed for months. The backlog of transactions is hundreds of thousands. And when the agencies reopened, lines formed long before dawn with clients hoping to get a gold ticket to meet with an agent and sort out their paperwork.
Now the agency, known for the trip that New Jersey residents feared, has largely recovered. And the residents noticed. 18 months after the opening of the MVC:
- has moved 80% of its business to the Internet, so many residents can skip a trip to the agency.
- upgraded its technology and upgraded its transaction processing system.
- added a reception record system for personal transactions, which made visiting agencies more enjoyable for clients.
Clarissa Mendez of Old Bridge said it was “super easy” to renew her license after she learned she could do it online once she received an update form in the mail. The online process took minutes, and the new license came in the mail about a week later, she said.
“It was just convenient,” she said. “I saved time on trips there and waiting.”
The pandemic has forced a modernization that chief administrator Sue Fulton said she had hoped to do since she first took on the role in 2018.
At the beginning of Fulton’s work, the agency focused on preparing for Real ID, which was originally scheduled to take effect in October 2020, and improving personal use of customers through updates such as registration options and text notifications to alert customers when it’s their turn to serve .
But the pandemic changed those plans.
COVID has forced the agency to focus on the internet. After all, residents say the agency has improved the customer experience by minimizing it.
“Any chance not to go there [MVC] with me well, ”Mendes said.
When seats in the state were closed in March 2020, the agency had only a limited number of online transactions. He started moving them online one by one, starting with license renewals and then moving on to replacing licenses and registrations and so on. By the summer, he had transferred 35 of about 100 businesses online.
The upgrade continued after the doors reopened in late June, and now 80% of all transactions can be completed online.
The agency made a record number of total transactions in 2021: 12,265,402. This is compared to 9,215,394 in 2020 and 11,765,437 in 2019.
Inflate your gas ?:The ban on self-service fuel in New Jersey could be lifted
William Connolly, an agency spokesman, and Fulton said the MVC made all of these changes within its annual budget because they were made by its own IT team.
The budget provides for regular upgrades and improvements to the systems, “about $ 10 million out of a total budget of about $ 450 million,” Conali said.
“Without a huge request for a budget, outsourcing or a large consulting company, this domestic government agency has revised the whole … system we had before and turned it primarily online,” Fulton said.
Fulton said his own IT team “saved a lot of money by doing it step by step with people who knew the system and had the latest technology.”
Connolly said moving transactions online “saves both money and time,” but he could not share the exact cost savings.
It has also helped limit the effects of staff shortages due to COVID-19.
“The change in online transactions has allowed us to continue working despite this shortcoming,” Conali said.
When these places reopened in pandemic mode in the summer of 2020, “early” officials knew the old tracks would not work. Some online transactions were available, but people still showed up at agencies, and transactions were recorded by the thousands.
Agency staff went through long queues, informing customers about online options and sending some home if their transactions could be done online.
“They showed up all night waiting to come in when we opened,” Fulton said. “Even if there was no queue at noon or 1pm, there was such panic that they had to get to the agency as soon as it opened.”
The story continues below the gallery
So the agency set up a destination system, first for major first licensing and registration transactions, and then to include more things like commercial licenses and knowledge tests.
Michael Tuci was forced to head to Hazlet’s location after buying the lease, and “was shocked at how easily it all went”.
Tuchi said the website was clear on what he needed to do and what forms he needed for the appointment. He said the meeting took about 20 minutes.
“I haven’t been to the agency in many years,” Tuchi said. “Apart from the simplified process, I would say that the people who work there are a little better than in the past.”
However, not everyone is so happy. Ryan Irwin went to Itantown as a walk after his meeting was canceled due to bad weather. He was disqualified from attempting to pass the commercial driver’s license test because the MVC ran out during the day. He had no problem when he tried to come in a second time as a walk on a weekday.
In some places, the agencies allow a small number of visitors, but it is strongly recommended to make an appointment, the agency said.
The agency’s new hurdle is to invite clients to look online before heading to the agency.
“It took a while to teach customers to go online first,” Fulton said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
MVC emphasizes the transition to online services during the pandemic in “virtually every communication we make, including newscasts, customer and media recommendations and on our social media platforms,” Conali said.
This includes information about online options sent to customers with update forms. This has been in effect since 2020.
The agency also continues to work on expanding online services. Last week the registration of vehicles such as taxis, school buses, limousines and some agricultural machinery moved to the internet.
He is also still learning to balance with scheduling appointments because there needs to be some flexibility. Right now, clients can make an appointment 30 days in advance, but the number of clients they have assisted is reviewed each week so the agency can determine how many appointments will be available in the coming weeks.
The MVC faced some staffing problems earlier this year when the Omicron wave collapsed and more than a third of employees left at one point.
“We had to cancel the meeting. We had a lot of seats for half of their staff, ”Fulton said. “It’s a constant balancing act to have the number of meetings we can make.”
Transactions that require a personal visit
The agency is preparing and is already scheduling appointments for clients interested in obtaining a Real ID, a federal identification standard that will be required for air travel from next year.
Fulton said the types of transactions that require an agency visit are when customers need to complete the “first”, such as getting a first license or changing the name.
Here are some of the transactions that still require a personal visit to the agency:
- Transfer of license outside the state
- Valid identifier
- Identifier without driver
- New name or registration
- First registration renewal
- Seniors (65 and older) new title or registration
- Knowledge test
- Road test
Katie Sobko is a reporter at the New Jersey Statehouse. To get unlimited access to her work concerning the Governor of New Jersey and the political power structure, sign up or activate your digital account today.