Early-morning lines have been growing at the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission's licensing centers as the end of the month and year approach.

At least 100 people bundled up against the cold were lined up along Thomas G. Weschner Drive, the road leading to the Bakers Basin license center in Lawrence on Wednesday morning around 7:15 a.m. Some sat in beach chairs, while others saved spaces in line for people who made runs to the nearby Dunkin'.

Every space in the parking lot at the center off Route 1 was taken.

The MVC has battled against long lines since reopening after months of closure due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, and it routinely closes individual offices because of positive coronavirus test cases. The MVC's vehicle centers recently went appointment-only, and the commission has been encouraging drivers to conduct eligible transactions online.

But long lines at branch offices, especially at the end of the month, were common before the pandemic, according to MVC spokesman William Connolly. The MVC has said any crowds appear larger than they would have pre-pandemic, because of indoor capacity limits and social distancing requirements.

"There is still high demand for new licenses, which is the main reason people are there. There are also many people who get in line before opening who don’t need to be there," Connolly said.

He said that once the doors open, staff members ask people who are in line what business they are trying to transact, which takes about an hour.

"It takes a while to determine why people are there, whether they are in the wrong place or need to do their transaction online or by appointment," Connolly said. "Then it takes a while to get them checked in via the text notification system. Once that process is done, the line will be cleared."

Connolly said there are no plans to extend expiration dates further, as the MVC had extended deadlines for registration and license renewals during the spring. Anyone facing an expiration date can either renew online or, if in a special category or already more than six months past an expiration date, must get an appointment.

Renewals are not allowed on a walk-in basis. Walk-ins are for new licenses only, Connolly said.

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The MVC offers a "cheat sheet" about what services are available online. The MVC in a tweet pointed out that once an online renewal is complete, the printable receipt is valid immediately for driving. The agency in November stopped creating new licenses within the office and mails them instead.

MVC employees with positive coronavirus tests have caused at least 10 offices to close, with the the Toms River licensing center the latest to close until Tuesday, Jan. 12. A closure at the Manahawkin vehicle center was extended to Tuesday, Jan. 12 after a second employee tested positive.

Four offices — the Wayne licensing center, Newark regional licensing center, Rahway licensing center and the East Orange vehicle center — are scheduled to reopen on Thursday.

Line at the MVC 's Bakers Basin licensing center in Lawrence (Dan Alexander, Townsquare Media NJ)

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