Caught up in the bureaucratic nightmare that is the D.C. DMV


Clare Pilkington at her home in Loudon County on March 14. Pilkington received two tickets meant for a car with a similar license plate. Her car’s is PICKLS, which was confused with a vehicle with the plate P1CKLS. After spending months fighting the D.C. DMV over the ticket issued in the District, Pilkington was recently cleared. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Baltimore resident Charlie Haupt figures that if he’s lucky, around June 2015 he’ll hear from the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles on his appeal of the parking ticket the agency says he received in February 2012.

And he has his fingers crossed that if the department accepts his argument — that the ticket can’t possibly be his since it was issued to a Ford and he drives a Nissan — he will be refunded the $110 he paid as part of the appeals process. But that probably won’t happen until later in 2015, about 31 / 2 years after the ticket was issued.

There are bureaucracies and then there is the D.C. DMV, which seems to have outdone many government agencies in creating a level of frustration among its customers, particularly those who get caught in its byzantine ticket-appeals process. Granted, departments of motor vehicles have never enjoyed stellar reputations for customer service, but recent stories from those who have been caught in the District’s bureaucracy suggest a level of frustration that is hard to match.

Want to adjudicate a ticket by mail? You’ll wait an average of 150 days for an answer from a hearing examiner, according to DMV officials. Appeal that decision and it could take an average of 20 months to get an answer. But the good news is it will take only six to eight weeks to get your money back.

“It’s becomes very frustrating for people who know they are wrongly ticketed,” said John Townsend, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

What's your story?

Have you had your own negative experience dealing with the District's Department of Motor Vehicles? Let us know in the comments below and we'll share some of the best stories.

To be fair, the D.C. DMV handles about 2.4 million tickets each year — a number that has mushroomed with the proliferation of automated camera enforcement designed to catch everything from red-light runners to oversize trucks. And staffing has not kept pace with the increased workload. In fiscal 2013, the department’s 18 hearing examiners, who review tickets, carried a caseload of about 11,500 tickets each. The agency’s ticket-processing system is 19 years old, but efforts to modernize it have been stymied by a lack of interest among vendors.

Last month, at an oversight hearing on the department’s performance, D.C. DMV chief Lucinda Babers cited numerous improvements the department has made. She said the agency has reduced the waiting time for a road test to one month from three. It has revamped the registration process for the city’s more than 1,000 taxis to make it easier for cabbies. But she acknowledged that problems remain with ticket-processing response times.

“Although we have made improvements in the last year, we are aware improvements are needed,” Babers told D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who chaired the hearing.

Haupt, an information technology and security specialist for the Howard County government, was among those who testified at the hearing. Although he easily could have written off the $110 fine, he and his wife each took a day off from work to be at the hearing. Haupt said he couldn’t just let the matter drop. He knew that if he was frustrated, chances were that others felt the same way.

“Do I want my $110 back?” he said. “Yes, but it’s more than that. I want things to be improved.”

Haupt said that in February 2012, he received a notice from the D.C. DMV that he was delinquent in paying a parking ticket.

“I knew even before I checked it was a mistake,” he said. That’s because Haupt has not driven to the District since the 1970s. Plus, the ticket listed the offending vehicle as a Ford. Haupt drives a Nissan Rogue.

Haupt promptly appealed, sending photos, a memo explaining the discrepancy, and a copy of his registration noting the difference in the make of the ticketed vehicle and the one registered in his name.

Four months later, in June 2012, he received word that the hearing examiner had determined he was liable for the ticket. No reason was offered. Frustrated, Haupt appealed the decision. For months, he heard nothing. Finally, in November 2013, more than a year later, he contacted the agency and was told his case had not yet come up. When he inquired when it might, the person on the other end of the line said it could take three years.

“At this point, it’s not even about the money,” Haupt said. “You feel so frustrated when the system assumes they’re right and you’re guilty.”

The D.C. Council is attempting to address some of the concerns. Legislation working its way through the panel would allow people to submit additional information if they are found liable after their initial attempt at adjudication. DMV officials also would have to explain why the initial appeal was denied — something not currently required.

Like Haupt, Loudoun County resident Clare Pilkington spent months tangled in the DMV’s adjudication process.

Pilkington didn’t realize she had received a ticket until a late notice arrived in the mail in November. The form letter said she owed $200 ($100 for the violation and a $100 penalty for not paying in a timely manner) for a ticket issued in September. The problem? The ticket was written for a Lexus with the license plate P1CKLS — with a “1.” Pilkington drives a Chevy Tahoe with the license plate PICKLS — with an “I” (it’s an old family nickname).

Given the mistake, she figured there would be no problem.

That wasn’t the case.

Pilkington tried calling the DMV, but she said she couldn’t reach a real person. So she used the DMV’s online adjudication process. She filled out the online form and included a short statement. Pilkington said she tried to bolster her case by attaching her Virginia vehicle registration, which proves she drives a Chevy, not a Lexus, but that the online system would not allow her to do so.

And then she waited. In January, she received word: The hearing examiner had ruled against her. Pilkington was surprised and decided to appeal. On the advice of a friend, she asked WTOP’s “TicketBuster” to intervene. In February, as she was preparing that appeal, she received another unwelcome surprise in the mail. The car with the P1CKLS plate had been issued another ticket — this one by Montgomery County.

With the help of WTOP, Pilkington had Virginia’s DMV send a notice to the D.C. DMV and Montgomery that proved they had the wrong car. Within hours of receiving the notice, Montgomery officials contacted her and apologized. D.C.’s DMV, however, stood firm. The problem? According to a D.C. DMV spokesman, the department can’t consider information that was not submitted with the original adjudication request. The notice from Virginia’s DMV came too late.

“The lady at the DMV said it could take up to two years to get a decision,” Pilkington said. “It’s not just the money, it’s the [principle]. They’re just so inflexible.”

But Pilkington had one last avenue. The DMV told her that she could check with the local police. And so she went to see the commander in city’s 2nd Police District. Within days, the ticket was dismissed. It was Feb. 21 — five months after the ticket was issued.

And just last week, she received confirmation from the D.C. DMV that she is free and clear. A refund should arrive in six to eight weeks.

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
SECTION: {section=local, subsection=trafficandcommuting}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: {allow_comments=true, allow_photos=false, allow_videos=false, comments_period=14, comments_source=washpost.com, default_sort=, default_tab=, display_comments=true, is_ugc_gallery=false, max_items_to_display=15, max_items_to_display_top=3, moderation_required=false, stream_id=}!!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=local, subsection=trafficandcommuting}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: {allow_comments=true, allow_photos=false, allow_videos=false, comments_period=14, comments_source=washpost.com, default_sort=, default_tab=, display_comments=true, is_ugc_gallery=false, max_items_to_display=15, max_items_to_display_top=3, moderation_required=false, stream_id=}!!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments