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Confusion abounds at state RMV

Voicemail system still directs customers to closed Southbridge branch

There’s handicapped parking space, but no available bathroom facilities for the disabled at the Mass Pike RMV office. (click for larger version)
September 24, 2009
CHARLTON —If you call the state Registry of Motor Vehicles office asking for the closest branch you might be shocked at the answer.

"The Southbridge branch, located, at 926 West Main Street, is open Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. except holidays," an automated voice says.

Of course, that is not true. The registry closed the branch earlier this year, citing budget concerns.

No mention is made of the new Charlton branch off the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Press another key on the phone system, and users are directed to the next closest branch in Worcester.

On the RMV Web site, the Southbridge branch is listed as closed. Elsewhere on the site, the Charlton Branch, located at the 5-East Mass Pike service plaza, is mentioned. The RMV opened the Charlton branch last month as a "mitigation" office for closing the Southbridge site.

The RMV is aware of its phone system directing people to the Southbridge location and is working to fix the problem, according to Spokesman Ann Dufresne.

"We have a very, very old system," she said.

If they can't fix the problem, Dufresne said the feature would be removed.

Dufresne's comments came last Thursday before she hung up on a reporter asking questions about the Charlton RMV's restrooms and concerns swirling around the site overall. She responded to several initial questions about the site's bathroom facilities. When the reporter started asking her to respond to a Charlton man's recent experience at the registry, however, she hung up.

Thomas Jenner, a disabled 50-year-old disabled man who suffers from multiple sclerosis and walks with a cane, said he went to the RMV Monday, Sept. 21 to inquire about tax issues surrounding a car he purchased. Jenner, whose illness causes him to use the bathroom frequently, said he was told there were no bathrooms in the facility. He later found out there were facilities upstairs that are only open to registry employees. Jenner said an RMV employee told him to walk across the service plaza parking lot to use the bathrooms there. Feeling exhausted from his trip, Jenner decided to go home and take a nap. He could not hold it any longer.

"I ended up having to pee behind a tree on the way to my car cause I couldn't hold it anymore," he wrote to the Southbridge Evening News in an e-mail.

As the reporter was asking Dufresne to respond, she interrupted once to ask how many times Jenner would even have to use the RMV. Then, she requested further questions to be posed to her via e-mail, because she had to attend to something else. When the reporter declined, she hung up.

Before she did, Dufresne said the bathrooms in the RMV building are only open to employees and said customers could use the facilities in the service plaza.

Dufresne recently railed against the Southbridge Evening News in a series of e-mails, saying reporters had "manufactured" controversy over the Charlton site. She also accused reporters of lacking the skills or experience to do their job.

Jenner did not mince words in response to Dufresne's hang-up.

"I think she is very, very rude. She doesn't want to address the issues. She is probably hoping everything is just going to go away," he said.

Jenner felt embarrassed by his experience, and said walking across the parking lot would have been difficult for him because he walks with a cane.

"I just think that is so outrageous," he said. "They have a bathroom in their building. It just doesn't make any sense. It would have been something if I got arrested."

Jenner said "an apology would be fantastic," and added he would be contacting authorities who enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The RMV took more flack last week over its consideration of a plan to issue toll vouchers to disabled people who would have to use the turnpike to access the handicapped parking. The five parking spots are only accessible by the pike, and not by the Route 20 entrance.

Carol Hansen of Sturbridge criticized the idea, saying she would still be forced to drive all the way to the Auburn exit, only to turn back for home.

"It shouldn't be an obstacle course to negotiate anything with this state," she said.

Jenner said he was happy to use vouchers, but criticized the overall parking setup. He said he entered the site from Route 20 after seeing a sign directing drivers into the parking area. Jenner said the sign made him think the RMV building was very close to the parking. The building, however, is a fair distance from the parking area and is frequently filled with cars.

"I didn't know how far of a walk it was," Jenner said.

Ryan Grannan-Doll can be reached by phone at (508) 909-4050, or by e-mail at rgrand@stonebridgepress.com.

This story will appear in the Southbridge Evening News Monday, Sept. 28

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