Columbia MVA patrons sent to bathroom at deli next door

80-year-old woman complains, calls arrangement 'absurd'

September 19, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

Spending two hours in a mobbed MVA "Express" office in Columbia is bad enough, and for an 80-year-old woman who needs a bathroom, there's no place to go but the deli next door.

Brierley Carroll, who lives in the Charlestown retirement complex in Catonsville, said she couldn't take the wait, so she took a manager's suggestion that she go next door to Columbia's Best Deli. She finds the lack of bathroom facilities for such large crowds "ridiculous, absurd."

Carroll said the MVA needs to provide a bathroom even if it's a porta-potty on the parking lot. "It needs to be done. "We old people are over there and you can't have crowds like that and not provide a bathroom," she said.

Deli owner Don Kim said he had no problem accommodating Carroll. Although "a lot of people" want to use his bathroom, some people who come in stop to get something to eat or drink, too.

Worse yet for Carroll was that she found the lost driver's license that she was at the MVA to replace two days after her ordeal on Aug. 27.

"Oh, I was furious," the feisty retiree said. "It cost me an extra $20 and all that aggravation, and the new picture was awful – it looked just like me." She adamantly refused to allow a news photographer to try for a new likeness.

Officials concede that she's right about the facilities, but they're not sure how to address it.

The Columbia location opened in 1988 and is one of four Express offices providing limited services for drivers, and the only one without a bathroom. MVA officials said the office processed 152,000 transactions in fiscal 2010 — more than it was intended to handle. On top of the Express offices, there are 24 full-service offices around the state, plus two part-time satellite locations. The closest alternatives to Columbia are in Baltimore and Glen Burnie.

MVA officials would like to expand the increasingly busy Columbia location or move to larger quarters that would include a public bathroom if money is available. The state's transportation plans call for $200,000 to be spent next year on planning for a move, but spokesman Buel Young said that he wasn't sure that allocation would survive budget cuts.

"The Columbia Express office is one of our older places," Young said. "They were not built with bathrooms. It's like a post office, he said, in that it doesn't have a public bathroom.

Indeed, budget cuts have eliminated the only stand-in for a public restroom that the Columbia MVA had.

Henry Lightfoot, MVA district manager, said the office once had a state trooper assigned for security who would escort elderly patrons to use the employee bathroom. The office can't allow people to use the employee bathroom unescorted because it's a security risk, he said. The office is most crowded at the end and the very beginning of each month — and Fridays, like the day Carroll visited, are often crowded, too.

Carroll said she had spoken to Lightfoot, but isn't putting much stock in the talk about moving.

"I don't care if they're going to move or not. They must provide lavatories," Carroll insisted.

This Friday nearly 70 people sat or stood waiting for service in the small storefront office just before 11 a.m. Several more patrons were having breakfast at the Columbia's Best Deli next door, waiting for their turn in line.

"They ought to put a question mark after the word "express" joked Paula Permison of Columbia, who was celebrating her 47th birthday waiting to renew her driver's license.

"By the time I get out I might be 48," she said.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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