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The Nose

Goodnight, Express

Posted 8/6/2003

Last Wednesday, July 30, the Nose took a trip down into the bowels of the earth beneath Baltimore, aka the Charles Center subway station. It was right around noon and the cavernous station was a ghost town, with employees far outweighing patrons. But one area was bustling. The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration Express office, tucked away along the station's winding mezzanine, was packed. A line of people renewing their driver's licenses, getting state ID cards, and obtaining copies of their driving records wound in a tight, serpentine line inside the tiny office. Today that area is as bleak and lifeless as the rest of the station. Gone are the surprisingly friendly MVA workers who would retake your ID photo if you morphed into a troll the moment the flash went off. And gone is the luxury of getting your basic MVA needs met in a convenient downtown location. On Aug. 1 the MVA closed down the Charles Center Express for good.

"It closed pretty much for consolidation. The Charles Center office represented less than .5 percent of the MVA's business in the state," MVA spokeswoman Angie Linger says. All the employees from Charles Center are being transferred to the full-service MVA at Mondawmin Mall, which Linger says is the state's fifth-busiest MVA. Mondawmin Mall makes up 7 percent of the state's MVA business and is now the only MVA in Baltimore City. She says the Charles Center location served fewer than 150 customers per day.

But former employees of the Express say the office always had a steady stream of clientele and was usually packed around lunchtime.

According to July 15 press release announcing the Express' closure, "in the decade since opening the Charles Center Express, the MVA has increased the volume of services offered on-line, via the telephone, and at self-serve kiosks," making the downtown Express unnecessary. But license renewals and ID cards are not available online, and people wishing to get driving records via the MVA Web site have to wait for up to five business days to receive the records through the mail--at the Express, those records could be retrieved and handed right over the counter on the same day. What's more, there are no MVA kiosks in Baltimore City.

That leaves few options for city residents: a kiosk and an Express at Towson's Kenilworth mall, MVA's Kafkaesque headquarters in Glen Burnie, and, well, the MVA bus, which provides a wide variety of service and parks at two Security Boulevard locations in Woodlawn for five hours 11 times a year.

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