The letter below, that I have sent to Lucinda Barbers, Director of DMV, explains the situation.
Dear Director Babers:
I am writing to bring to your attention the absurd circumstances and poor customer service that I recently encountered at the DC Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) while attempting to update my address and secure my current vehicle registration sticker, which was mailed to my previous address after I renewed my registration and paid online. I am requesting your help to resolve this issue.
After filling out the requisite forms and waiting my turn at the DMV office on M Street SW, I was stunned when I was told that I could not move forward on receiving my current vehicle registration because I owed $1,120 in unpaid tickets from 2007/2008 timeframe on a Ford Ranger with Virginia plates that was registered in my name at that time. I replied that I had most assuredly paid those tickets a long time ago, as required by DMV when I sought to register my vehicle in Washington, DC. When I moved from Virginia to DC and, in turn, switched my driver’s license and the vehicle registration on that same Ford Ranger to DC in 2008, per DMV’s rules I had to pay all outstanding tickets at that time. Further, in the intervening decade, I re-registered that Ford Ranger in DC multiple times, subsequently bought a new vehicle and registered that vehicle in DC, and renewed my DC driver’s license—all actions which require back tickets to have been paid. Why, a decade after the fact, does the DMV now think I have not paid my old tickets?! It’s absurd and defies logic.
At the DMV’s M Street SW office, I was told that I had to go to Adjudication Services over in L’Enfant Plaza SW to resolve back ticket issues. So, I made the trip over to L’Enfant Plaza, waited in line and took a number. After explaining the circumstances to three different levels of staff at the hearings office, including Ms. Paula Coyoy, the Hearing Support Supervisor, I discovered a couple of things during my interactions. First, DMV apparently went through a database/software swap of some sort in the past decade. One agent told me that they had different data than the DMV representatives at the M Street SW office. I asked if that might not be part of the problem. Her overly swift retort was an immediate, “no.” Second, DMV’s current representatives have no idea why the many representatives I have interacted with over the past decade were not so astute as to notice what would be quite a glaring error if it were true, that I supposedly owed $1,120 in back tickets. Could it be because I do not, in fact, owe that money and actually paid those tickets ten years ago?? DMV’s current customer service representatives could not fathom, or at least would not acknowledge, that this could be the case.
At no point in my recent interactions with any of the DMV’s customer service representatives was there an attempt to problem solve why after a decade of near yearly interaction with the DMV I suddenly was considered to be in arrears for $1,120 in tickets. Ms. Paula Coyoy, the Hearing Support Supervisor at L’Enfant Plaza, looked over my entire history (I first moved to DC in 1993) with the DMV and remarked positively, “You have quite a long history with us.” I responded, “Yes, I do, and I pay my tickets.” Her response: “You appear to, except in this instance….” Ultimately, DMV demanded that I produce a paper receipt to prove that I had paid my tickets a decade ago or I could not get my updated registration sticker for my car. I told Ms. Coyoy that finding such a receipt would not be easy under the best of circumstances, but in my case, I had moved three times in the last decade. Finding a decade-old receipt from DMV (which clearly I had no reason to think I would need anymore after having successfully acquired a DC license and multiple vehicle registrations over the years) or the applicable bank or credit card statement (after the passage of so much time, it’s hard to remember exactly what method of payment I used) would be nearly impossible. Ms. Coyoy agreed that finding a nearly decade-old receipt could be difficult, but that was my only option if I wanted to receive the new registration sticker that I had already paid for online. I put forth that such poor customer service and lack of initiative to problem solve this issue reflects badly on the DMV and feeds into the widespread perception by the public that DMV is a difficult bureaucracy that is inept and hostile towards the people that they are ostensibly in business to serve. Ms. Coyoy just shrugged.
I am asking for your help resolving this issue, because I have exhausted the chain of command at the DMV Adjudication Services office, where I found the entire experience to be incredibly frustrating and exhausting. The inability of the on-the-ground employees to explain the contradictions in logic of decade-old tickets suddenly showing up as being unpaid and my registration sticker being used to try to extort more money from me is an experience I would not wish on anyone. Any and all help that you could lend to reach an amicable resolution of this problem would be greatly appreciated.”