“It’s absurd and defies logic.”

by Prince Of Petworth June 15, 2017 at 1:15 pm 55 Comments

“Dear PoPville,

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.”

  • HaileUnlikely

    I’d recommend forwarding this to your representative on the city council and possibly somebody in the Mayor’s office as well. Whatever any of the geniuses who voted Jim Graham out of office in favor of Brianne Nadeau think of him now, he would have had this taken care of in about an hour.

    • CTAM

      And news that Jim Graham passed away today just hit the news. Very sad.

    • textdoc

      Agreed on contacting your councilmember and your MOCR (Mayor’s Office of Community Relations) rep.
      Hanging my head at having been one of those geniuses. :(

      • dcd

        Me too. Sorry about that. Sometimes, we should swallow a little corruption in the name if efficiency and effectiveness.

  • gonzo

    The have no record of you paying. Really sucks. But, you’re stuck with that regardless if there’s an error on their side, which you are yet unable to prove. Not sure if it defies logic, but it would test my patience.

    • DCRunner

      They have no record of the payment, but they do have a record of issuing registrations over a ten year period. That should be enough for a certain level of employee to resolve this.
      To the OP, a shorter, less irate letter would likely be more effect in secure the relief you seek. I know that advice is too late.

      • DCRunner

        *effective in securing. Whew is it too late in the afternoon to get a coffee?

  • KPS

    This is what happens when agencies are staffed with unqualified employees who not only lack critical and analytical thinking skills, but frankly seem to wake up in the morning thinking of ways to make folks miserable while on the job. This is the chaos and dysfunction that make people sick of living and DC, and why, in many cases, people just leave. Terrible that OP had to go through this. Unconscionable.

    • anonymous

      +1. I literally had a nightmare last night where I was almost about to pull the trigger on buying a car. Two of my friends talked me out of it, and I had a tremendous feeling of relief because I was afraid of the DC DMV. True story.
      Sorry to the OP. Yes, this is exactly the sort of thing that drives people out of this city. I manage because I can get by on a bike, but the thought of tangling with the bureaucracy just for the privilege of owning and driving a car here gives me nightmares! I have no advice- just good luck.

      • eva

        As a counterpoint, I’ve owned a car in DC since 2003. I have never had a problem or serious challenge with the DMV and I have received only a handful of tickets in that time. I don’t drive very often, which helps, but I have not experienced these nightmares. I have also had extremely rapid and professional service at DCRA (including getting all permits for a very significant in scope home renovation over the course of an afternoon).

        OP–get your constituent service people involved. There is a way to solve this problem, but you won’t be able to do it without their help.

      • west_egg

        When I moved to DC (’04) the DMV had just released a new form for tenants to have their landlords complete as proof of address. I went to the DMV to pick one up (no, it was not available online) and was told that the form was so new that they hand’t received any copies yet; and that I should just have my landlord write a letter per the previous rule. So I did that and returned to the DMV the following week. “I’m sorry, we can’t accept this. We have a new form that landlords have to fill out…”
        Luckily the manager I asked to speak with took mercy on me and I was able to register my car that day.

      • Commentator

        The stereotype of the DMV as a department and of its staff was not borne solely out of DC’s way of handling things. Fair enough that you don’t want to tangle with them, but even if you’ve had a good experience in a DMV elsewhere, there are problems to be found in many, especially those in major cities.

    • dcd

      “but frankly seem to wake up in the morning thinking of ways to make folks miserable while on the job.”
      I think this situation is explained fully by Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

      • Truxtonite

        If you think the DC DMV is bad today…

        I sold my car after 10 years of living in DC mostly because I didn’t need it, rarely drove it, and was tired of moving it every week for street cleaning. I was so relieved to never ever have to experience the DMV again except to get a license renewed. I recently decided to get a car again and seriously, one of the biggest components in analyzing whether to actually do it was the interactions I would have to suffer in dealing with the DC DMV. I have to say it was not nearly as painful as it used to be. I remember sitting in line for FIVE HOURS at the old Georgetown location one day only to be turned away because they said they could not accept a proof of something or another that was clearly spelled out on the website as being acceptable. They finally instituted a gatekeeper of sorts who basically checks your paperwork before you get a number, though I have to agree, his/her job seems mostly to find ways to turn people away. But at least that only takes an hour instead of five hours.

        There are no shortages of DC public government/services that are mind blowingly awful to deal with, but DC DMV probably takes the prize.

  • Anon

    You can get old bank statements and credit card statements if you ask your bank. They may charge a small fee for it, but it can usually be done. You should be able to find the payment in there somewhere. I assume you didn’t pay $1200 in cash. I think you would remember that.

    • dat

      Presumably the original tickets were much smaller and the amount owed is $1200 now largely as a result of fines and penalties

    • HaileUnlikely

      From over a decade ago? The bank that I had at the time when said payments were supposedly made has been acquired three times over since then.

      • Anon

        I have done it before from a bank who had changed hands. You can get the statements.

  • anon

    $1200 in tickets seems to indicate you might have a problem with following rules.

    • Honest Abe

      +1 I could not have said it better.

    • KPS

      Wow, uncalled for. His ticket issues were almost 10 years ago. Are you the same person today that you were a decade ago — or have you always been perfect and without blemish?

      • Formerly ParkViewRes

        Plus the OP moved to DC in 1993…so from then until 2008 they racked up $1120 in tickets? Not exactly crazy.

      • west_egg

        Frankly I’m surprised it took as long as it did for someone to blame the victim.

      • dcd

        These days, with the advent of speed cameras, that’s achievable in 3 or so years without breaking a sweat.

    • InRosedale

      Have you lived in DC very long? Do you own a car? The parking rules in this city can be very convoluted. The comment you left seems to indicate you might have a problem with not being a dick.

    • lizcolleena

      Ridiculous. There are probably fees tacked on for late and/or non-payment (even though she paid), considering the system’s unreliability.

    • AMK

      What an absurd response to what is already an absurd situation. Sounds like the kind of response one gets at the DMV. If one drives regularly in DC, it’s unfortunately far too easy to rack up significant costs in tickets very quickly. Depending on the particular violation, a single ticket can be $250 or more, so one could easily end up owing a large amount of money over a relatively short period of time. And with a plethora of driving and parking rules in DC that apply in different locations, on different days, and at different times, a person’s failure to read the applicable fine print on one of many signs can have significant consequences. One doesn’t have to be a habitual, intentional rule-breaker to owe a lot of money to the DMV. And in this case, it sounds like the OP paid those tickets a long time ago, in which case s/he is someone who tried to follow the rules by paying the applicable penalties.

    • Truxtonite

      Yeah, sorry, but I have knocked out about $450 in tickets in the same year before so $1200 in the span of 24 years seems pretty damned good to me. And you have to figured some of that are doubled fines as well.

    • Truxtonite

      An easy way to fix the many, many egregious issues with the DC DMV is to start holding the publicly elected officials who run this city accountable for it. I think the utter failures of the DMV are universal frustrations.

      I’ll vote for any politician in DC who promises to overhaul that dumpster fire.

  • ah

    Classic DC – They presume their systems are correct, unless you can prove them wrong. Except for the fact that they routinely acknowledge their systems are junk and unreliable.

  • InRosedale

    My wife has a similar issue. About a year ago when she moved in with me, she had a ton of unpaid tickets from DC on her MD licensed car. In order to secure her DC registration and tags, she had to pay the entirety of what she owed. There was literally no way to get DC tags for the vehicle unless everything was paid off. So we did and she got her new tags in May last year. Went to renew the registration this year and was informed we had outstanding tickets. I looked into the ticket numbers and sure enough they matched identically with the ones we paid last year. Luckily, I am not ten years out and I did keep the receipts from DC as well as my old bank statements so I will be heading to L’Enfant next week to not only explain this, but see what if any action I can take to make sure this doesn’t keep happening. For pete’s sake they could boot and tow her car in the middle of the night costing us hundreds even though we have already paid the fines. you would think that one look at the dates on the tickets and one look at the time when she registered her car would signal that there must have been a mistake. DC will not let you register with unpaid tickets. It really is frustrating.

    • Driver

      Hide her car. Pay for a garage space until resolved.

      • InRosedale

        It is at her mom’s house in MD. Can’t risk it.

  • Anon

    I recently reached out to Lucinda Babers over an issue where the online form was not allowing me to do something that DMV customer service was claiming and my deadline to renew was fast approaching. She was very responsive, extremely helpful, and kind to help me as she did. If only the rest of her staff followed her lead. Hopefully she will help you resolve this.

  • NoMiPa

    Were the tickets from DC or Virginia? Maybe the ticketing jurisdiction has a record you paid them and can supply you with proof. Or if it was in Virginia they might have suddenly decided you owe money and that’s the origin of the problem. That state has gotten in touch with me a few times demanding money, even though I haven’t lived there since I was a child and definitely don’t owe them taxes, driving tickets, etc.

    • Commentator

      This is what I was thinking, too, but the timeline is confusing for me, so I can’t tell whether the OP had DC or VA tickets. S/he first moved to DC in 1993, but then was switching the driver’s license and registration to DC in 2008 and the tickets were from 2007/2008, so not sure if s/he was moving back and forth during that time. If they are VA tickets, though, I would absolutely check in with them and see if they can provide a record of payment.

      • lizcolleena

        Agreed the timeline is a little confusing. I chalk “first moved to DC in 93” up to meaning either the metro area or for the first time which would mean 2008 was a subsequent move to DC.

  • anon

    I had a similar issue- I moved, paid for my address chance, and tickets were sent to my former address… and I only found out because they were taken out of my taxes. I had to produce everything in triplicate and after arguing for over an hour the clerk acknowledged that the DMV was incorrect… but that they still couldn’t do anything for me! I know they see people at their worst, but the idiocy astounds me. I challenged my tickets and still haven’t been able to find out the outcome… “call back in 6-9 months”. WHAT?!?!

  • Ben

    Maybe also reach out to WTOP ticket busters? Seems like a story they would want to write about…

  • U st.

    Awful. Critical thinking should be a part of any government level training for any position. “How can I fit this into a box I can check?” shouldn’t be the way that an issue is dealt within any department. Maybe I am a sensitive outlier, but I extend empathy in my government position- even if there is truly nothing I can do for the customer and I have exhausted all of my options, e.g. their options. AND if I am asked a question that I don’t know the answer to- I figure it out myself or ask someone else who many know. YES, customer service can exist….if you’re a motivated employee. Feel your frustration……..

  • NC in Chinatown

    I had a similar issue happen to me although not quite as bad. I had to go through Jack Evans’s office to get it resolved, but it was taken care of. That’s been 10 years ago, but I’ve kept all paperwork just in case.

  • anon

    If you paid for your tickets online, you will have received an email receipt from “[email protected]” I did a search of my email and found receipts dating back to 7/16/07. I moved into the city in late 2005, so they either introduced, or switched to their current system/email around that time, or I was an amazingly law abiding resident for my first year and a half.

  • anonymouse_dianne

    I renewed my driver’s license with the new REAL ID at the Georgetown facility. The woman who helped me was efficient and very pleasant. I was out of there is an hour plus a few minutes (I paid to park and those minutes counted!)

  • salty

    Just a note regarding the bank statements, you’re bank (regardless of it has been through an acquisition, etc.) is REQUIRED to keep 7 years of archived statements. This may not be the best news for you, but hopefully you would be able to identify a large portion of the payments. Call your bank, they should not charge you for this (unless you ask for a CD…). It will likely require someone in the back office to retrieve the statements so it may take a few days.

    • HaileUnlikely

      They’re talking 10+ years ago, though. Are they required to keep them for 10+ years?

  • whygodwhy

    I had something very similar happen to me when I went to renew my DC license and had to switch to the Real ID! The DMV in Georgetown told me I owed $150 in parking tickets that were from 6 years ago. I balked, as I have paid all of my tickets, and have renewed my registration multiple times in the past 6 years. It would have been impossible to do so if the tickets were outstanding. I tried to explain this to the woman at the counter, but she said I would have to go to L’Enfant and come back. I had already waited for 2 hours and was missing work, so I just reluctantly “paid” them. It is a total BS racket.

  • Wyane

    If it’s any consolation you are not alone in your experiences of criminal incompetence. I had the city recently give me two tickets for things are were simply not real. A late night zone unpaid meter on a street that doesn’t have late night parking… and a ticket for taking “multiple” spots for the car extending upto the meter… After that I very nearly had them tow a Zipcar from a stretch of Okie street that has neither signs or meters. The car had no ticket and the tow truck driver simply drove away when I showed up before he could tow the car. No comment, nothing. The city obviously has zero incentive to fix these broblems which is one of many reasons why I won’t ever again buy a house in DC, incorporate my business or own a car here. The less official contact I have with the city the higher my quality of life.

  • not telling

    Do you still have a banking relationship with the bank from which you paid the ticket? If so, you may be able to obtain a statement. Although it wouldn’t prove WHAT you paid the money for, and it may cost you if the bank doesn’t have the records available.

    I remember a ticket buster story from WTOP a while back that was similar….DMV finally acknowledged a mistake, but said they couldn’t do anything to change the outcome. The woman finally went to the police station and had the police (who issued the ticket) redact it. But I don’t know if that would work for you–I guess it depends on who issued the ticket.

    I have to say, pretty much every problem story I’ve heard like this turns out to be a case of someone who didn’t keep their license/id up to date. I know it’s a pain, but I have a hard time feeling bad for people who ‘forgot’ to register their car or change their address with the DMV for years and years.

  • anon

    I’m skeptical that anyone who managed to rack up $1200 in unpaid tickets on a car that was (illegally, apparently) registered out-of-state could be all that sure they’re in the right here. Could there have been more tickets you didn’t pay? Maybe the mistake was not tallying up all of your tickets in the first instance.

  • Ally

    Sorry you’re having to go through this. Presumably, though, your bank should be able to help you locate those electronic receipts — whether it was a check or a debit card/credit card purchase — there should still be a paper trail you can track down (and most banks and CC companies are very willing to help). It’s possible that the ticket(s) really did exist — I see them on the ground in the street all the time…. and you’d have no way of knowing if you were given one and it blew away. No explanation for why it took so long for them to flag it, though. 10 years is beyond silly. Hope you get it all worked out soon (and hope the above doesn’t look like criticism of you at all; it’s not)!

  • mkdgoodman

    If you have a problem with what is going on at DMV and you think they have made a mistake, contact the Director of the DMV. You can email the DMV at [email protected]. Give them the opportunity to resolve the issue. If they have made a mistake, I guarantee that they will be eager to resolve it. If they can’t, or not willing to do anything, I would then contact your councilperson’s or Mayor’s office. Give the agency a chance to fix it first.

  • SE

    A total sympathy vent! Two days after snowmageddon 2/2010 I had to go into work. The roads were plowed but there were banks of snow along the shoulders / side lanes everywhere. I was only car anywhere on the road I was travelling. I was making a right hand turn but due to the banks of snow on my right side I was partly in the center lane in order to make turn and a cop pulled me over and gave me a ticket for making an illegal right hand turn / being out of correct lane. I contested the ticket to the DMW with pictures of the snow-covered right hand turn lane etc, got my postcard acknowledging my contest….and have heard nothing about a final adjudication in the last 7+ years!! I have saved all my paperwork from the interaction. Online DMW states I have an outstanding ticket (this snowmageddon one) so I can’t renew my vehicle online. But, oddly, if I mail in the renewal it goes through fine. I have taken the paperwork with me any time I have to go to DMW for a car transaction. Once I explained the situation to someone there and said I wanted to speak with someone to help get it resolved (is there a statute of limitation DMV has to adjudicate tickets?). She gave me a # to wait to speak to someone….waited 90 minutes w/out my number being called and gave up and left. I know some day this DMW-unadjudicated ticket will come back to haunt me but I can just never muster up enough energy to go fight the DMW bureaucracy to do so pro-actively. :(


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