JACKSON HEIGHTS — Applicants for the city’s new municipal identification cards are facing hours waiting in line, problems with the phone lines and website and a backlog for appointments that already stretches to April in some spots.
The problems come as thousands rushed to get the free cards, which were introduced earlier this week.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking at an unrelated press conference Thursday, said 5,000 people have enrolled for the card in just over three days. Thousands more had made appointments.
The city originally allowed New Yorkers to show up at one of 17 enrollment sites around the five boroughs to sign up for the cards, but switched to an appointment-only system Wednesday morning due to huge demand.
Walk-ins were accommodated, but only to make appointments for a later date. The switch confused some residents.
According to a senior de Blasio administration official, as of 5 p.m. Thursday, almost 34,000 people had made appointments — including 28,243 on that day alone.
There were 12,788 calls to 311 Thursday about the card.
The new IDNYC cards, which are available for all New Yorkers aged 14 and over, were unveiled Jan. 12 and provide proof of identity and offer basic city services to thousands of New Yorkers who didn't have it before.
De Blasio admitted the city was surprised by the public's interest.
"What we are pleasantly surprised by is the level of interest," he said.
"We honestly thought it would ramp up over time. We got a huge outpouring of interest from the beginning. We consider that a victory. We consider that a good thing."
The senior official acknowledged that some people were being scheduled for appointments into February and even March but added that wait times varied according to sites.
"Some sites have been able to book earlier appointments because demand has varied by site," the official said.
At registration sites across the five boroughs, though, many who say the card is vital to them were disappointed by the long waits.
Mariela and Oscar Gonzales, a married couple from Mexico, came to the Mid-Manhattan Library to get ID cards but left with only a March 5 appointment.
"It's very stressful because I have to come with her because she cannot speak English," said Oscar Gonzales, 33.
"I'm available now, but who knows by March 5?"
At Make the Road New York’s Jackson Heights office, hundreds lined up before the center opened and appointments were booked through April, according to the center’s director of operations and the site used to make appointments.
"We didn’t anticipate having this number of people,” said Arlenis Morel, 34, who’s worked at Make the Road for 12 years.
“We knew it was something the community needed, but we didn’t expect the response to be on this scale.”
To deal with the demand, the city plans to open two pop-up centers in the next two weeks at the Center for Family Life in Sunset Park and LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, according to a senior city official. Three dozen more staffers have been sent out to sign-up locations to help process applications.
Three additional pop-up centers in as-yet-to-be-determined locations will be opened within the next month, the official said.
At the 66 John St. location in Lower Manhattan, Greg Portnoy, 29, said the website didn't make it clear he could make the appointment online, leaving him with the impression that he would be able to get the ID right away.
“It was definitely confusing,” he said. “The website, which isn’t good, makes it seem like you fill out the form, bring it here, then get the ID.”
At the Flushing Library, Luis Pinguil, 30, waited for three hours with dozens of others in the basement auditorium, watching the movie “50/50.”
He first tried to book an appointment by calling 311, but he couldn’t get through.
“I try, but they don’t answer it,” he said.
Appointments at that library and at the main branch in Jamaica are booked up through April, according to the online site. The next available appointment at the Flushing library is April 14, but slots are rapidly filling up.
A spokesman for the Department of Information Technology said the agency "deployed full resources to resolve any issues and have dramatically reduced the wait times on 311 calls."
The changes helped them book IDNYC appointments "across the board," he said.
Additional reporting by Heather Holland, Irene Plagianos and Nicholas Rizzi.