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Division of Motor Vehicles Westfield Inspection Station Closing

by Jeanne Whitney - 97Mar15

The long-debated state plan to farm out operation of Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) automobile inspection stations to private companies includes the possible closing of the Westfield office on South Avenue, East. State officials have estimated that the move -- which would affect at least 11 and perhaps as many as 24 of the 45 local offices and four regional offices in the system -- will save $6.2 million per year. A request for bids from private companies to operate the system was put out by the state two weeks ago.

Labor unions representing state motor vehicle inspectors have vowed to fight the privatization of the stations. Officials estimate 150 workers will lose their jobs under the plan’s budget. Workers have accused Governor Christine Todd Whitman’s administration of pursuing the plan in order to provide jobs for Republicans.

A state appeals court gave workers the go-ahead last month to sue the state over the privatizing. Plainfield and Somerville inspection stations are also on the state hit list for closing, according to the plan.

The state has delayed action on the plan for the past two years but now faces a loss of federal highway funding if more stringent federal clean air measures are not implemented. A need to upgrade inspection equipment to monitor automobile emissions and close stations has been tied in with the privatization plan.

Newly-appointed State Transportation Commissioner John J. Haley, Jr., has said he wants to take advantage of new technology to streamline the DMV system that handles 10 million transactions per year. Along with the introduction of service "kiosks" in shopping malls and computer chip "smart card" licenses, renewals for vehicle inspections and registrations would be for two years rather than annually. Licenses would be valid for five years instead of four, according to the proposals.

The local Westfield inspection station handles 150,000 cases a year, according to 19-year veteran Inspection Supervisor Robert Bennett. "We do an inspection about every minute-and-a-half or two minutes," he said. Inspections under the new plan will run about two minutes longer. The pace and volume at the Westfield station is particularly high, officials say.

Mr. Bennett, who works six days a week at the station, said the station has two lanes to handle inspections but only enough employees to keep one lane open. The local station is now down to five employees from 10.

The station uses a lot the size of a football field on Windsor Avenue behind the station to queue up waiting cars. A state Department of Transportation spokesman has said the Westfield office has serious "stacking and congestion problems." Signs indicate the lot is also used for driver’s license tests. Local officials say under the privatization plan, the state would provide the facility for inspection stations, however, staff would no longer be state employees.

Inspectors say their job is not easy. Customers often become irate when vehicles fail the tests, according to inspection station staffers.

Currently, inspections are free at state stations while private garages charge $20 to $30. Privatized stations would not be allowed to charge inspection fees, according to the plan.

Recently, a study of a Wayne state-run station that uses upgraded automobile inspection equipment revealed problems that could further delay compliance with federal pollution mandates and privatization of local offices. The new equipment uses higher standards in measuring emissions from vehicle tailpipes and evaporative fumes from gas tanks. The tests run about one-and-a-half minutes longer than the old tests. Vehicles made after 1980 will be subject to the more stringent standards, according to the plan.

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