Following a disastrous reopening of Motor Vehicle Commission offices last Tuesday, when mobs of customers waited in sweltering heat for hours, fights broke out and people started camping out overnight and barbecuing with open fires, several changes were made to limit the size of crowds, stop the sleepovers and speed up services.

New Jersey MVC Chief Administrator Sue Fulton said she’s been working non-stop, from 6 in the morning until 10 at night, to work on improvements.

She said the MVC has received many suggestions from well-intentioned lawmakers but they could not be implemented for a variety of reasons.

She noted the MVC could not and cannot stay open seven days a week for 12 hours a day because “the state is in a financial crisis."

"We have no opportunity to hire more people or pay for more hours — that simply isn’t a possibility," she said Friday in an interview with New Jersey 101.5.

She said even if the funds were available, “it would require training people, which takes a period of time. It’s not possible, it’s not feasible.”

Fulton said a suggestion to stagger customers coming into MVC offices by an alphabetical system using their last names would not work.

“Those systems that have been tried in the past are very difficult to enforce,” she said. “They’re confusing to customers. People tend to get them wrong and it’s hard to check.”

“If we’re outside checking everybody’s ID to see what their last name is, that takes us away from the job that we really need to do.”

Fulton said the idea of going to an appointment-only system might seem to make sense but the problem is “our transactions can range from six to 20 minutes depending on the customer, not on the transaction, and you have no-show rates of between 30 and 50%. So what happens is you have employees who have a lot of slack time, and the last thing we want is employees sitting around doing nothing. If you do an appointment system you are adding to the backlog.”

On why the crowds overwhelmed MVC offices as they reopened: “Our people were very prepared, our systems were ready, security and managers were ready to turn people away, but I didn’t anticipate the level of anxiety that have built up over these last three months. That’s on me.”

“I didn’t anticipate that people would refuse to leave after they were checked in because they were afraid to leave the building once they got in," she said.

She described the MVC reopening as a devastating day, and not only for customers who had long, frustrating, hot waits.

“I was horrified by the abuse and the threats that our employees experienced, and despite all that, people banging on the windows and saying horrible things and not allowing them to get to their cars," she said. "They still processed more new licenses and registrations than we did before COVID. I am so proud of our employees.”

She said the new system announced on Thursday, where a capacity limit will be determined and a certain number of people online will get a numbered ticket ensuring they will be served “does work."

"We are adding more volume, we’re serving more people every day, I think the Motor Vehicle Commission is performing exceptionally well.”

Fulton added “I get it, people were waiting for three months, they were very anxious to get their transaction done, but we’ve made some changes, very important changes in our processes, in addition to the governor extending expiration dates, and our customer experience will be better.”

Fulton said even though the reopening problems have now been surmounted, more changes are being explored, including placing all forms online.

“We are working on some options for driver knowledge testing,” she said. “We’re looking at several options so that we can do that within social distancing, understanding that a knowledge test can take an hour.”

Looking forward, she said she believes the MVC can regain the trust of the public.

“We will rebuild trust by our performance every day and by what our employees are doing on the front lines each and every day at Motor Vehicle,” she said. “We cannot do three months worth of work in one week but we will continue to do more work per day than we used to.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com