If you can stand the wait, there is justice ...
It's standing room only. It attracts men and women, rich and poor, black and white, young and old. There are few smiling faces, only one pay phone and the door to the ladies' room doesn't close.
It's the Bureau of Traffic Adjudication, a morass in which, during the years, I have spent too much time. But when I get a ticket that strikes me as patently unfair, I just can't bring myself to pay it. I go to 65 K St. NE instead.
Take what happened two weeks ago when I brought home a trunkful of groceries. There was no available parking place, so I double-parked, opened the trunk and took two of the bags into the house. By the time I came back to the car (and I'm talking less than a minute) one of those infamous pink cardboards was affixed to my windshield -- a $50 ticket at that. Two days later I parked at a meter on 25th Street NW and got a ticket for being too near a driveway.
So armed with those and two other gripes -- and enough reading to last for days -- I arrived at the Bureau of Traffic Adjudication at 8 a.m. The first window didn't open until 8:30, so I sat down on the floor to read a newspaper. I was told that I was breaking the law: sitting on the floor was not allowed.
Next I was shunted to the back of the building into another line to schedule a hearing -- I could choose that day or another. Then I had two other lines to stand in -- until 9 a.m.
At 10:50, it was announced that because of a shortage of personnel, the wait would be an additional three to four hours. My mind was racing: Why was there a shortage? Why couldn't some of those hair-trigger ticket writers be pressed into service? With the $20 million-plus the BTA brings in annually, couldn't it bring in a few more hearing officers?
At 11:10 I was sent to a hearing room with eight other defendants. That's where I saw my first smiling face: the hearing officer's. He seemed like a genuinely nice man, and he kept his cool during all the excuses:
I was speeding because someone was behind me, and I sped up to get away from him and drove into a speed trap.
I didn't see the sign.
My clutch was broken, so I had to back all the way home.
My neighbor's dog bit me when I was taking it to the vet, so I had to run the red light.
I don't sit on that side of the car, so I didn't know when it was time to get the car inspected.
Someone else was driving my car.
Then it was my turn. First, the hearing officer asked for my grocery receipt (I hadn't thought to bring it). So he turned to the D.C. code and found that, sure enough, it's legal to temporarily unload people and freight in the District, so he dismissed that ticket.
On the parking-meter matter, he asked me to take a picture of the scene. He said he would consider the case when he got the pictures.
I then reviewed my other complaints with him. In the end I got off on three and only had to pay $10 on a $50 ticket.
So here, from a veteran, are some words to the wise for those who find one of those pink slips on their windshield.
First, if you have tickets that are legitimate and outstanding, pay them. They double after 15 days. And be mindful that if you have four or more tickets, the booters have orders to disable your car -- and they will. From firsthand experience, I can tell you that being booted is a hassle and expensive, but that's another story.
You should also be aware that some violations include a 5-minute grace period, though ticket writers rarely grant it. For example, you don't have to pay a ticket issued at 9:25 if the sign says you can park in the space at 9:30, or one issued at 4:04 if the sign said no parking after 4 p.m.
If you decide you want to pay a visit to 65 K St. NE to protest your ticket(s), arrive early (lunch to 3 p.m. is the busiest time) and take a lots to read.
And above all else, know what you want. Ticket dismissed. No points. One young man in my hearing room was asked several times what "remedy" he wanted. He didn't have the foggiest idea and ended up paying the ticket and going to traffic school.
Nowhere is it written that life is fair. But we don't have to endure the arbitrary, capricious whims of what seems to be quota-driven ticket teams. We can make a stand at the BTA. -- Karen Kalish