I survived a 3-hour NJ MVC wait, and all I got was this lousy license
You'll never guess how long it took to renew my driver license.
At exactly 11 a.m. Friday, I walked in the door of the South Plainfield agency of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. My goal was simple — renew my driver license, just two days from expiration.
Nearly 3 hours later, 1:57 p.m. — I wearily and proudly shoved my shiny, freshly printed drivers license into my wallet.
For the third time this week, the MVC computer system suffered a statewide failure. Workers helplessly placed the blame for the problem on "Trenton," with only question marks about the cause of the issue and restoration time. I counted at least a hundred customers at the South Plainfield agency (including yours truly) stranded in various stages of waiting.
By my watch, the downtime ultimately lasted between 37 minutes and 75 minutes, depending who you asked. More on that in a minute.
I actually give the staff of the South Plainfield agency credit for keeping the crowd of frustrated customers as calm and informed as they could during the outage. There were a few stellar employees who were quite efficient, friendly, and professional. Some even kept the crowd entertained with their regular, self-deprecating updates.
On the flip side, there were several employees whose job seemed to solely consist of sitting in a chair and scowling. Several others were downright nasty.
So here's how my super fun day at the MVC played out:
11 a.m. — Arrived. Started my adventure by filling out the license renewal form, which required three separate signatures. (Why? No idea.) Entered the line to wait for the receptionists' desk.
11:15 a.m. — An announcement was made that the computers were down, and that no transactions could be processed. One MVC staffer described the uncertainty of the situation: "I've seen it down for five minutes, I've seen it down for five hours, I've seen it down for five days. I have no idea what's going on."
11:52 a.m. — 37 minutes later, the official @NJ_MVC Twitter account tweeted: "Systems are currently up and running." Still eerily quiet around the agency, at a standstill.
12:30 p.m. — Just as the entire MVC staff was preparing to take a lunch break during the outage, the call finally came in from "Trenton" that the system was restored. A literal round of applause erupted from the crowd of customers. Total downtime in South Plainfield: 75 minutes.
(Editor's Note: An MVC spokeswoman told New Jersey 101.5 she called South Plainfield personally let its staff know computers should be back up, though there seemed to be lingering confusion at other MVC offices as well).
12:34 p.m. — Made to the receptionist! Took 30 seconds to review my six points of ID and gave me a number for the next waiting area. I was No. 112.
12:35 p.m. — I sit down in the waiting area just as they call No. 65. Still a long way to go, but they promised that everyone instead the agency will get processed today — even if they have to work past the posted 5:30 p.m. closing time.
1 p.m. — Two hours into my journey, the MVC staff opened an "express" lane for customers who specifically needed to renew their license. Only U.S. citizens with "simple" no-change renewals could join this line. I qualified!
1:23 p.m. — My number was called for the express license renewal line. My third wait of the day.
1:50 p.m. — Made it to the front of the line. I really wanted to make a face when my new photo was taken.
1:53 p.m. — Processing complete. Just need to wait for my license to print.
1:57 p.m. — Done! Out the door! Going home!
My visit to the MVC consisted of less than five minutes worth of actual transactions and business, on top of 75 minutes of computer outage and over an hour and a half of waiting.
Yes, I could have taken the trip to renew my license earlier in the month. Yes, I could have gone at an off-time, like early morning or late evening. Yes, I could have gone to a "low volume" MVC office. Yes, I could have not misplaced my "Skip the Trip" form and mailed in my renewal instead.
On the other hand ...
Yes, the MVC IT staff should be working day and night to reduce or eliminate the number of computer outages that cripple statewide operations. Yes, the MVC should continue to aggressively pursue technological initiatives to make more services available online. Yes, the communication between "Trenton" and the 70-plus MVC agencies and the people of New Jersey needs to be dramatically improved.
And yes, every employee should treat every customer with professional courtesy and respect, instead of intimidation and bureaucracy.
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