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Pursuing ID in NYC

mmv idnyc

City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito applied Thursday for her IDNYC (photo: William Alatriste)

I moved to New York in August 2013 from India to pursue a master's in journalism at NYU, which I earned just last month. I am on an F-1 visa and my only forms of identification were my Indian driver's license and my passport. The license is valid here, I was even allowed to drive in the State of New York, but there was some understandable confusion whenever I produced it as proof of my age. In India, like many other countries, we use the day-before-month format. I've often faced a confused bartender wondering how I could have been born in the 22nd month of the year.

While most places accept my license, with some explanation required, others outright refuse to acknowledge its authenticity. I've been told several times that people are unable to accept anything but a State-approved DMV ID. That or my passport, which I don't regularly carry around in my back pocket for obvious reasons.

Frustrated by being turned away too often, I made a trip to that much dreaded institution of urban existence, the DMV (though I did find the branch at Atlantic Center in Brooklyn quite efficient). I had to brave long lines and produce nearly six different proofs of identity, including health insurance, debit card, and utility bill, before the application was valid. Two weeks later I received a New York non-driver's ID in the mail.

So, I have plenty of valid photo identification for my time in New York, which I'm hoping will extend. But that didn't stop me from immediately wanting one of the new New York City municipal identification cards, for which open enrollment began this week. And I tried to get one, to no avail thus far.

To me, it's about the perks. Like many New Yorkers, I haven't been so good about taking advantage of the cultural mecca that is New York. I've never seen the animals at the Bronx Zoo or enjoyed a performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, for example. So, when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in September that the city's new municipal ID program, IDNYC, would come with free one-year membership to 33 leading cultural institutions, I was sold.

On Monday, I watched the mayor's press conference officially launching the program, then spoke with City Hall sources and wrote a story about the budget for the IDNYC program and the details of the marketing campaign it will fund.

I didn't need to hear a radio ad or see a PSA in the back of a cab, though - I was already convinced to get my own IDNYC. So on Tuesday, day two of the rollout, I set out to get one.

Like many New Yorkers, my efforts to apply for the ID on Tuesday were met with disappointment. Sadly, at two separate Brooklyn locations I was unable to have my application materials processed. But, it wasn't that the program launch didn't work. It worked a little too well. On each of its first two days, IDNYC enrollment centers saw overwhelming demand from New Yorkers, forcing many centers to cut off their lines when they'd reached capacity for what they'd be able to process for the rest of the day. They simply couldn't handle the numbers.

I first went to Joralemon Street, where the Department of Finance's Brooklyn Business Center was hosting enrollment. It was only 2 p.m. and there were thirty-five or so people in line before me for the ID. Some had been waiting for hours. The standing racks holding application forms in numerous languages were half empty. All the forms in English were nearly gone. After I had waited a painful 90 minutes, the center announced it was at maximum capacity. In the time left (the center closes at 4:30 pm) they would only be able to process a certain small number of applications - not including mine. But, a helpful employee directed me to the Brooklyn Public Library, which would be open till 9 pm. Plenty of time to go get signed up, I thought.

I thought wrong.

At the Library, a police officer corralled the crowd to keep the entrance clear. At least a dozen people milled about, some in curious wonder and others in fuming anger because of the ID enrollment. A line snaked out from a nearby door with a large IDNYC logo above it.

Unfortunately, the line had closed long before I got there. By mid-afternoon, the amassed applicants had surpassed the center's ability to sign them up. The line of people, which had apparently stretched out the door as early as 6 a.m., was now at a manageable size. But it would be the last batch of the day. Stragglers were being told they could set up an appointment through 311, the city's helpline.

The mayor's team seemed prepared for this contingency. They confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that the City would switch to an appointment-based system - much to my relief since I'd already exhausted enough time - and extra volunteers would be brought on to assist with enrollment. Both 311 and an online portal would allow for appointments, it was said.

But, as I and others attempted to go that route, we were met with reminders of the initial launch by the federal government, where a good idea got bogged down by bad execution. This is on a much smaller scale and of far less importance, of course.

The website did get going and though there are long wait times through 311, appointments can now be made - but they are being given for weeks into the future, leaving me less enthused and less determined to get my IDNYC. I didn't book one...yet.

by Samar Khurshid

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