Officials with the Motor Vehicle Administration have a warning for Marylanders seeking to renew their driver's licenses this week: Stay away from the Glen Burnie headquarters.
The MVA office on Ritchie Highway will be the last of 24 branches to implement a new driver's license system with enhanced security features.
Because of new technology and unfamiliar processes-and because the office will be closed Labor Day-the lines this week promise to be even longer than the two-hour wait that has become the norm, said agency spokeswoman Cheron Wicker.
'Go to another office'
"We are telling people, 'Try not to come to Glen Burnie next week,'" Wicker said. "If people need a driver's license or new identification card, we want them to go to another office."
Wicker added that the lines should be shorter after Labor Day.
The new driver's license, which the state is issuing in response to concerns about terrorism and identity theft, feature embedded text and multicolored holograms that make them more difficult to forge than the old licenses.
But creating it includes several new processes that add extra layers to a cumbersome procedure.
One of the wrinkles comes when employees conduct a Social Security check and have to scan identification documents into the system. Then they must wait for the computers to process all the information.
The MVA's warning comes amid maddening lines that have forced customers to wait several hours for routine transactions that once took half an hour.
Reasons for delays
The agency has blamed the delays on the new system as well as a hiring freeze in state government and an increase in teen-age drivers in the last year.
During the next few weeks, the MVA is hiring 50 new employees, and it hopes to add more before the end of the year. The agency is recommending that customers register vehicles and get duplicate titles online at the Web site: www.mva.state. md.us.
In an interview last week, Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan apologized for the inconvenience and said fixing the system is a high priority for his department.
"This is one area where people are forced to interface with government, and they have not gotten the treatment that they deserve," Flanagan said. "It makes me feel very bad."
The staff shortage did not go unnoticed by the crowds of customers waiting to change titles and renew registration last week at the Glen Burnie office.
By midafternoon Thursday, only three of 19 windows on the registration-renewal side were staffed.
"There's no sense of urgency. They could [not] care less that we're all here trying to get back to work," said Stacey Certner, a Jessup hotel manager who had waited nearly an hour to get a duplicate title for an Acura that she is selling.
A few feet away, Bill Curran was swapping MVA horror stories with fellow customers.
Curran, who lives in Severna Park, may have had the worst story. He was trying to buy a used car, and the process of getting a new title, a temporary tag and then a permanent one required three trips.
Next door at the driver's license office, W. Abdullah Brooks, a Johns Hopkins Hospital pediatrician who lives in Bangladesh but wanted a Maryland license because of his connection with the hospital, waited three hours to change his license from New York to Maryland.
"If this were Bangladesh, there would be a melee," he said. "But it needn't be like this. It could be so much better."
The wait was even worse Friday.
In Towson, the line stretched out the door at the MVA Express on Kenilworth Avenue.
In Glen Burnie on Friday, customers quickly learned that the MVA lines could take up more than a lunch hour. Margery Muth-Ivester grumbled about waiting four hours for her son, Paul, to get his learner's permit.
Outside, Baltimore resident Joanne Lapp dragged on a cigarette as her hour wait slipped into two. Her last renewal five years ago took only 20 minutes.
"There's a lot of hostility in that room. People's temperatures are rising," Lapp said.
For teen-agers like Paul Ivester, 15, though, the lines are a small hassle on the road to independence. Paperwork in hand and looking more relaxed than the adults, he focused on the end- his learner's permit.
"It's all worth it," Ivester said.
Sun staff writer Alyson R. Klein contributed to this article.