TRENTON – With the state Motor Vehicle Commission all-in on steering drivers toward online transactions, state lawmakers want to force it to have a better call center for those needing help.

Eighty percent of MVC transactions can be done online, after a pandemic-era push accelerated by systemwide closures for months in 2020.

To this day, individual agencies don’t have all transactions available: Some handle driver licensing, others handle vehicle transactions.

Help needed

Assemblyman Bill Moen, D-Camden, said the MVC’s ability to shift so many transactions online represented some of the good work it has done the last few years but that residents who are challenged to make the transition deserve more assistance.

“It will just provide that access for our residents in the event that they have issues in communicating or understanding certain aspects of online transactions,” Moen said.

Moen said he realizes the MVC has customer assistance phone numbers now – the most prominent being (609) 292-6500, plus others for a variety of topics, though none for web transactions.

“What this does is it truly dedicates a line across the entire state to troubleshoot any issues that are tied specifically to the experience of online transactions,” he said.

‘I don’t need a call center’

Assemblyman Chris DePhillips, R-Bergen, was the only lawmaker not to support the bill, though he abstained rather than vote no. He said the focus ought to be on getting in-person services restored to MVC agencies, not further emphasizing online services.

DePhillips said his legislative office is still inundated with daily calls from residents who aren’t happy with the MVC’s customer service.

“More and more of my residents are saying: I don’t need a call center. I don’t need to go online. I want to go someplace and see somebody face to face,” said DePhillips, who said he’d like an explanation as to why MVC workers aren’t returning to their offices “in droves.”

In May, then-MVC chief Sue Fulton (who has since left for a post in the Biden administration) told lawmakers 35% to 40% remain absent from work on any given day, double the pre-pandemic rate.

Point taken

Assemblyman Dan Benson, D-Mercer, who chairs the transportation committee, said improved call center help is needed but doesn’t preclude better in-person services, as well.

“I don’t think it’s one or the other,” Benson said. “I think we all agree we want to see more staffing so that those REAL ID appointments can open up and that people that do need to go in person still can.”

Starting May 3, 2023, people must have a driver’s license or ID compliant with the federal REAL ID standards, or a passport, to board a plane. As of the start of the weekend, there were no REAL ID appointments for them available at 18 of 24 licensing agencies, with nothing available until mid-November at four of the six that have spots. There are no appointments to be had in the next two months north of Camden.

What would be required

Bill A3663 would require have to have operators taking calls at least between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays. Services would have to be offered in English and Spanish.

For transparency’s sake, the MVC would have to post quarterly performance reports on its website including data such as the number, purpose and length of calls and the length of wait times.

Changes already

The Assembly transportation committee included a few amendments while approving the bill last week. The call center would have to be located in New Jersey. And the MVC could rely on additional web-based tutorials and recorded messages to reduce staffing needs.

If this seems familiar

Senate and Assembly committees endorsed a similar bill in the spring of 2021. However it went no further before last session ended, so now it’s starting the process from scratch.

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Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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