April 20, 2004 – St. John motorists needing to renew their drivers' licenses haven't been able to get a real replacement license for at least two months because the machine that prints them has been on the fritz.
Sgt. Thomas Hannah, Police Department spokesman, looked into the problem after a reporter brought the subject up. He said someone from the department's Management Information System unit would visit the St. John Motor Vehicle Bureau offices on Wednesday to determine the problem. "We will be working on it post haste," he said on Tuesday.
Until the printer is fixed or a new one arrives, drivers will continue receiving notes stating that their expired licenses are still valid. When the printing function is up and running again, they will have to return to the Motor Vehicle Bureau offices to get their real replacement license.
This is an inconvenience to some. It's a problem for drivers who need to rent a car off-island if their license is expired. A note from Police Commissioner Elton Lewis attached to their expired license is no help.
"Nobody in the world knows the V.I. police commissioner," St. Thomas resident Mucki Wesley said.
Wesley faced the problem last December when she was planning a trip to Germany. Her driver's license was due to expire while she was gone. At that time, the printer at the St. Thomas Motor Vehicle offices was down, and she knew she wouldn't be able to rent a car abroad with only a note from the police commissioner attached to her expired license.
"People are held hostage. They can't rent a car," she said.
Wesley also was planning to visit Florida. She said she called the police department in the town where she planned to rent a car to discuss the problem. She says she was told that if she was stopped for any reason, she would have to spend some time in a police station to straighten the situation out.
The officer she spoke with "asked why didn't I just renew my license?" she said.
Finally, just days before she left on her trip, Wesley went over to St. John to renew her license. There, she recalls, the staff told her they were having technical problems, too. In fact, it took a second try to get her license to come out right.
Wesley doesn't see why a broken printer simply can't be repaired or replaced. "It can't cost more than $500. Nobody cares enough to fix it," she said.
The Motor Vehicle Bureau facility on St. Thomas is currently issuing licenses, but going there entails a lengthy and costly trip for St. John residents. And Wesley said there were at least 60 people standing out in front of the offices on Tuesday morning.
Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Andrew Rutnik has proposed shifting registration, inspection and driver's license responsibilities from the Motor Vehicle Bureau to his department to streamline operations. But even he is caught in the web.
When Rutnik, a St. John resident, had occasion to pay a visit at Roy L. Schneider Hospital, he was required to hand over his driver's license at the front desk as part of the hospital's security procedure. "They lost it," he said.
He tried to get a new license on St. John on Jan. 9, but the equipment wasn't working. He's still carrying around the piece of paper that says he's duly licensed, but that won't help him on upcoming trips off-island when he'll need to rent a car.
Rutnik passes by the St. Thomas Motor Vehicle Bureau offices regularly as he heads to his office in Sub Base, and he is very familiar with the long lines of people outside. "To leave them standing in the sun or the rain for hours is inhumane," he said.
In Rutnik's view, the Motor Vehicle Bureau personnel need an attitude adjustment. At least one resident reported that staff members were gleefully unsympathetic when told that the person was going off-island and had to have a driver's license to rent a car.
"Their inconsiderate attitude toward the public is more of a problem than equipment breakdown," Rutnik said.
Sgt. Thomas Hannah, Police Department spokesman, said that starting Monday, St. Thomas vehicle owners will be able to renew their registrations by mailing in their paperwork or depositing it in a drop-in box. He said the same procedure will be instituted on St. Croix soon. (See "Mail-in, drop-off vehicle registration coming".)
As for St. John, Hannah said mail-in registration is in the works. "Not too far down the road, either," he said.
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