MVC hearings political theater

By Sen. Kevin O’Toole, (R-40),Cedar Grove

Recently, I participated as a member of the state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee in a hearing about recent problems at some Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) offices in our area.  Specifically, these problems include long wait times and customers being turned away for service due to computer problems.

This public hearing proved itself to be nothing more than naked political theater by the Democratic members of the committee and a brazen election year stunt. The problems with MVC service are almost entirely caused by an outdated computer system that is 30 years old. 

The technology was placed in service back when driver’s licenses were little more than laminated pieces of paper, not the secure documents that we rely on today to prevent identity theft, crime and terrorism.

Since the beginning of the Christie Administration, the MVC has made great strides in serving its customers and it has placed a greater emphasis on moving critical technology projects forward to better position the commission for the future. We have finally restarted much needed upgrades that were put on hold during the Codey and Corzine administrations.

Year after year during budget hearings, those of us who serve on the Budget Committees were told about major MVC technology investments, such as the Motor Vehicle Automated Transaction System (MATRX) and the Enhanced Digital Driver License (EDDL) that were planned to improve customer service and make the MVC computers more reliable.

The pending introduction of an extended license, along with plans to implement online license renewals by 2009, was to be a positive change for New Jersey drivers.  Those changes would make renewing easier and reduce customer volume spikes and long lines at MVC offices.

In reality, projections about the effects of the 6-year license were off, implementation of the new digital driver license was greatly delayed and customer volume spikes and long lines exist to this day.

Had the EDDL project moved forward within the planned timeframe under previous administrations, a contract would have been awarded in August 2008. Under this timeline, online renewals would have been in place by late 2009 and the delays caused by the outdated, unreliable technology would not continue to occur.

While previous governors never made improving customer service at the MVC a priority, the Christie Administration has been extremely proactive in addressing short-term MVC needs until long-term technology improvements are finished.

MVC office hours have been increased 20 percent to 54.5 hours per week, more than ever before, including the restoration of service on Mondays.

Additional staff is being added at high volume MVC offices to speed up transactions, and additional cameras needed to issue drivers licenses are being installed as well.  And, to ensure that customers are not left waiting in line exposed to the elements, MVC office space is being rearranged to shelter more customers comfortably indoors while waiting to be served.

These changes will yield near immediate results in improving the customer experience at MVC offices, and are the best options available to remedy a bad situation left by previous governors and Motor Vehicle Commissioners in the short term.  But they are just that – short-term solutions.

The key to modernizing the MVC and solving its problems in the long term lies in updated technology.  Gov. Christie is fixing the problems left by other governors who failed to bring the MVC’s computer technology up to modern standards.

The dramatic change at the MVC is not just about this administration’s push to introduce new technology, but also a number of other positive steps designed to better serve its customers.  From instituting the greatest number of agency service hours in motor vehicle history and the opening of state-of-the-art facilities on state-owned land to installing more camera equipment and increasing staffing levels at our state’s busiest agencies, the MVC, under Gov. Christie’s leadership, is doing what’s necessary to fulfill the needs of New Jersey drivers.

After all of the upgrades are completed and more services are online, the wait times at the MVC will drop significantly. In fact, most drivers will only have to visit the MVC every eight years, a welcome change from the current situation.

I would have hoped that my colleagues in the Legislature who have noted concerns about the MVC would have shown greater interest over the last several years when essential technology projects were languishing during previous administrations.  Updating the technological capabilities of the MVC is of critical importance and should not be used for political gain.  We should not forget as we near the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that some of the hijackers used New Jersey driver’s licenses to board those aircraft.

Efforts like these to make driver’s licenses more secure and the MVC more efficient will go a long way towards making drivers happier and New Jersey safer.

  MVC hearings political theater