To illustrate the point of this editorial, an old joke requires you to think back to when meat was an affordable commodity. It involves two butcher shops and one of their customers, but vegans can play along.
The customer, Mrs. Schwartz, is standing at the counter at Joe’s Butcher Shop.
Mrs. Schwartz: “How much is that ground beef?”
Joe the Butcher: “It’s $3 a pound.”
Mrs. Schwartz: “That’s outrageous. I was just in Bob’s Butcher Shop down the street. He charges only $1.99 a pound, but he doesn’t have any.
Joe: “Lady, if I didn’t have any, l could sell it for $1.99, too.”
It’s not much different from how the state Motor Vehicle Commission defends its post-pandemic move to appointment-only service for most transactions. MVC spokesman William Connolly says this model cuts waiting times and ridiculously long lines, a hallmark of many services that were restored after lockdowns.
But, if there are no appointments, you can’t get the benefits of an appointment system. It’s just like bargain-priced hamburger that doesn’t exist.
State Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, clearly understands this. It’s why he’s pushing for the MVC to return to its pre-COVID-19 standard of service, which allowed most transactions to be completed by mail, online or by walking into a local office unannounced.
The reopening of MVC offices starting July 7, 2020, was badly botched. Sites opened and closed, seemingly at will, due to infections or other staff issues. People with expired or soon-to-expire documents camped out overnight, only to learn that the location wouldn’t open that day.
During that “shakeout cruise,” it made sense for the MVC to force all routine license and registration renewals to be conducted online or by mail. The decision to require appointments for other services — new driving licenses and registration, for example — and to split the 39 agencies into spots for either vehicle documents or licensing documents potentially eliminated some chaos, too.
Now, though, 14 months since the offices reopened, Singleton’s beef — and it’s not chopped liver — is that appointments for some in-person transactions are still rarer than hen’s teeth.
His chief of staff, Jennifer Aydjian, explains: “We appreciate that many items can be done online, and that should not change. However, at Delanco, the MVC (licensing center) in our district, many transactions have zero appointments available, some require a week wait, some require a month wait. Some are available as soon as tomorrow. The senator feels that drivers deserve better and MVC appointments should be accessible.”
One example is requests for REAL ID licenses, which require applicants to present verifying documents. At some point soon, the feds will require these secure licenses to board airplanes or enter government buildings. Anyone who has tried to make an REAL ID appointment, anywhere in the state, has experienced utter frustration. There just aren’t any.
One can make a list of excuses for the extended COVID-19 hangover, starting with the fact that getting unemployment benefits was even more screwed up at the pandemic’s height. But, it was saddled with an unprecedented number of new jobless claims and ancient computers. And, unlike restaurant and retail, which still have staffing problems, it’s doubtful that many MVC workers quit during the pandemic. These state employees weren’t laid off, and continued to enjoy full health benefits and pay while sitting at home.
If the MVC can’t get its workers to return consistently, that’s a management problem that falls squarely on Gov. Phil Murphy. It’s surprising he hasn’t taken more of an interest in resolving it. If there’s one bipartisan issue that Republican candidate Jack Ciattiarelli can get some traction from, it’s this one.
Singleton’s demand that all offices return to all-service, walk-in operation is probably isn’t realistic. The MVC seems dug in with the online/appointment model and, frankly, there are some benefits to it. However, as the senator suggests, be it ground beef, tofu or MVC appointments, availability is critical. If there’s a shortage, someone must own it and get it fixed.
For the full op-ed, please click here.