After being closed for more than three months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission offices re-opened on Tuesday with results that ranged from disappointing to disastrous.

There were huge crowds and long waits at many offices, with plenty of people not observing social distance or mask-wearing requirements. A few fights broke out, several offices were closed early, and people reported little to no oversight or on-the-scene communication by MVC personnel.

By early afternoon at the MVC Bakers Basin office in Lawrenceville, hundreds of sweltering customers had been waiting in line, packed together like sardines, for more six hours, and still had hours to go before getting inside the building.

Dianna Pfeiffer, of Allentown, described the MVC reopening plan as terrible.

“It’s not organized,” she said. “They were supposed to prioritize people who have been waiting since March. Nothing is prioritized. It’s really been a nightmare.”

She said not a single MVC employee had been outside to give the crowd an update on timing, or attempt to enforce social distancing.

Suzanne Bowman, of Titusville, came with her teen daughter Angelina so the 17-year old could get her driver’s license after passing the test last week.

Angelina said waiting 7 to 8 hours for her license was exhausting.

“It’s just like really frustrating how long this process is taking, like not being able to take the test on my birthday like a normal 17-year-old," she said.

Erica Crimm, of Ewing, was disappointed she and her daughter had to wait so long.

“I’m tired and I’m warm and we chose to stay but clearly they weren’t ready for us and I wish they had been,” she said.

Sara Meslanka, 17, of Rocky Hill, was also on line to get her driver’s license. She said the long, hot wait was “really frustrating knowing they’ve had a lot of time, but I don’t really think anyone could have accounted for the amount of people who are here right now.”

Two months ago, state Sen. Anthony M. Bucco, R-Morris, reached out to the MVC because he was very concerned about significant backlogs of renewals and pending transactions once their offices reopened.

Bucco said he asked the MVC in early May to give him an update on their reopening plans, and he also had offered to share suggestions about how to deal with the looming crush of motorists that would surely flood agency offices, but he never got a response. A second letter was also unanswered, he said.

Bucco said he feels frustrated and what happened at MVC offices on Tuesday was a disgrace.

“People in long lines unable to social distance, people being turned away, municipalities that had to call in their police forces in order to direct traffic,” he said. “I was ignored by them and then to see what we saw yesterday at these agencies, it just tells the story. It didn’t have to happen this way.”

Requests to do an interview with MVC chief administrator Sue Fulton were not answered, but her press office did issue a statement acknowledging the agencies did experience “extraordinarily high customer volumes.”

“While we understand the frustration of our customers in this extremely challenging and difficult time, our employees are doing the best they can to keep everyone safe and work as efficiently as possible," the MVC said.

"Our text notification systems are working as planned, and we remind everyone that expiration dates were extended. We ask everyone to check NJMVC.gov before you go to an agency, as some customers are in line for transactions that can be done online.”

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