April 20, 2004 – Beginning Monday, motorists on St. Thomas will be able to mail in their registrations to the Motor Vehicle Bureau, Police Commissioner Elton Lewis announced on Tuesday.
They also will have the option of placing their paperwork in what police described as a secure drop box that will be installed outside the Motor Vehicle Bureau offices in Sub Base and will be available 24 hours a day.
"We decided this is the best approach that could be taken at this time to eliminate waiting time and long lines," Lewis said.
To those who have been standing in long lines hour after hour in front of the bureau offices, the word didn't come a minute too soon. A throng of frustrated and angry motorists was gathered in front of the St. Thomas office at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, some having waited from 5 a.m., and some who had come back for a second day.
Sgt. Thomas Hannah, Police Department spokesman, said on Tuesday morning that he wished he had a loudspeaker to make the announcement in front of the crowd he knew was there. "We've been waiting since April 15 to make this announcement," he said, "but we were holding off until we got everything in place."
Hannah said the department hopes to set up similar mail-in and drop-off procedures for St. Croix soon. Later in the day he also said that mail-in registration is in the works for St. John, which has been facing its own issues for months with a non-functioning printer. (See "No printer, no new license — for months".)
Before Lewis's statement on Tuesday, an abrupt announcement had come from a St. Thomas bureau employee around 10:30 a.m. that the line was closed for new business for the day. That news left some 30 to 40 motorists with nothing to do but go home and try again Wednesday.
But some who had been waiting for hours still hung around. "Maybe he will come back out and still let us in," said a hopeful woman at the end of the line who said she had been waiting since 8 a.m.
The ones who made it in the door before the announcement had either been there since 5 a.m. or had been given a number on Monday and told to return on Tuesday to pick up their new registrations.
Stephanie Scott Williams, whose business provides registration services for clients, was among the throng left outside Tuesday when the doors were locked. "This is insane," she said. "It's so frustrating. Yesterday they had no typist. They haven't thought this process out. There's simply no communication, no communication at all."
Cecil Milliner agreed. "I'm happy to be through," he said. He had waited from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. on Monday to get a number, and from 9 to 10:15 a.m. on Tuesday to turn the number in and pick up his registration. Like many others, Milliner had taken time off from work for the process.
"I can't keep doing this, man," another vexed driver said. "I can't take all this time off from work, and they don't even tell me if I'm going to get in."
Williams said she has telephoned Lewis four times, but he has not returned calls. "I want to offer suggestions," she said. "This isn't working."
She also said she has been trying for two weeks to get the paperwork to ship a car to the British Virgin Islands, and she is still waiting. "They should use a drop box," she said.
What's needed for drop-off or mail-in registration
Hannah said registration fees remain the same as last year and that late fees for November through April are being waived. He said the new procedures do not apply to new or transferred vehicles, which still must be registered in person. The process for auto dealers also remains the same, he said.
He emphasized that people should submit the originals of their paperwork, but be sure to keep photocopies for their own records.
The steps to take, Hannah said, are:
1. Get your vehicle inspected prior to the expiration of your current registration.
2. After inspection, make sure information on the current registration form is correct — the owner's name and mailing address and the vehicle identification data. Then make two photocopies of this form — one to keep in a secure place and the other to place in your vehicle's glove compartment.
3. Make a copy of your valid insurance card, making sure it has the correct vehicle identification number, name and mailing address. Include a telephone number where you can be reached during business hours.
4. Check to see if you have any liens or fines for outstanding tickets. If you don't take care of them, registration paperwork will be returned to you with an explanation.
Normally, drivers go to "Window No. 1" at the bureau offices to see if they have any outstanding liens or tickets. But for drop-off and mail-in, Hannah said, anyone with any doubt about tickets or liens should go to the Territorial Court traffic section and obtain a document with their license plate number showing that any tickets and fines levied have been paid. They should then make a copy of this document.
"If you're sure you have no tickets," Hannah said, "go right ahead and follow the outlined procedures" without getting the court document.
5. Senior citizens or disabled persons should make a copy of their identification card to submit in order to receive their discount or exemption.
6. Payment should be by personal check or money order for the same registration fee as is shown on the current registration.
7. The originals of all documents — the current registration form, insurance card, optional court fine and lien statement if you wish, and senior citizen and/or disability documentation if applicable should be placed in an envelope along with your check or money order and a stamped, self-addressed envelope with your return mailing address.
8. The sealed envelope should be placed in the drop-off box or mailed to: V.I. Police Motor Vehicle Department, Sub Base, St. Thomas VI 00802.
Officers to 'use their discretion'
Lewis offered the department's apologies for the inconvenience the process to date has caused. "The department is continuing its efforts to offer the best service possible, and is confident that the new service is a stepping stone to achieve this goal," he said.
Efforts are continuing in the wake of last November's heavy rains and flooding to bring the Motor Vehicle Bureau "online as soon as possible," he said, "and prompt notification will be given when full operations are restored." Also, he said, police officers "are being asked to use their discretion until full service has been restored."
Persons wishing to register their vehicles in person still may do so, Hannah said. A previous June 1 deadline to finish the inspection process is no longer in effect, he said, but he encouraged motorists to get their paperwork in by the first week in May.
Hannah said police will work with the public and tickets won't be issued to persons with a "reasonable" inspection date. "However, if somebody is driving around with not having had their car inspected since last November, we will issue a ticket," he said.
Hannah said the bureau tried mail-in registration "in 1996 or 1997, but we had serious problems with people not putting in the correct mailing address, or the dollar amount. That's why we want people's phone numbers, so we can try to clear things up over the phone."
The new procedures would have been implemented sooner, Hannah said, but "we really didn't have any equipment to work with." He said Lewis had spoken with Office of Management and Budget personnel, and "there is some movement toward hiring people." The office currently operates with two cashiers and two typists, according to bureau director Lawrence Oliv
"We are tracking the procedures to see how they will work," Hannah said.. "We hope to have 3,000 people mailing in their registrations or dropping them in the lock box instead of standing in line."
Persons who provide registration services for others will be out of luck with the new procedures, Hannah noted. It is a common, and legal, practice to have another person do the standing in line and suffer the aggravation of the registration process for a fee.
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