In-Person Traffic Hearings May Be Eliminated in D.C.

Finding a safe parking space in Washington truly is a drag for many drivers. It sucks: plain and simple. There are only a limited amount of spaces and only so many that are legal. So when you are Khadr Ali, and you find a parking space only to come back with your vehicle ticketed, all because the sign that said “no parking” was out of your view, it becomes frustrating.

“The sign that says where I can’t park is way back behind the car, and I didn’t see it,” Ali said. “If there aren’t signs everywhere it is an inconvenience.”

She feels an injustice so she goes to adjudication services to contest the ticket in person. Taking off from work to wait in a capacity-filled room enough for elbows only is not much fun. But it is worth the sacrifice to clear her record.

If DMV has its way, that will not even be an option by the end of 2008.

As a part of Mayor Adrian Fenty’s DMV Performance Plan, the Department of Motor Vehicles will vote to phase out in-person hearings and replace them with contesting tickets by email or snail mail. The mail and email option are already available, although many prefer to contest their tickets in person. The City Council of Washington will vote early next year to approve the proposal, according to DMV spokeswoman Janis Hazel.

Residents fear this proposal will limit their voice to contest tickets, especially since they say parking enforcement has had a sloppy track record with them.

“I think they just out to meet their quota,” said Tyesha Winston, a D.C. resident waiting for her in-person hearing.

“This is my first ticket,” said Joseph Davis of Northwest. “The officer was saying I went 52 in a 35-mile hour zone, but I know I was not”

Scott, a Northwest resident who provided only his first name, is frustrated with the lack of notice that DMV sent him that his ticket had doubled. “They didn’t send me a reminder that the ticket was issued when my car was towed, but I got a letter in the mail when my ticket doubled.”

Currently the DMV in the District of Columbia collects 2.4 million parking and traffic tickets per year. Residents trying to contest a ticket often must stand in line for hours on end to get a chance at a hearing.

However that dreaded wait is worth erasing a hefty fine off their record, if they feel the ticket or fine was unfair.

“It’s a good idea, but it is easier to explain yourself in person,” Scott said of the proposed change.

According to the Performance Plan, the reasoning behind the option is that, “DMV’s in-person hearing wait times could be significantly reduced by requiring mail-in adjudication for parking tickets.”

In the case of Alexander Brooks of Northeast, the e-mail option will not work for many residents, and did not work in his case as well. “I wasn’t able to complete the online transaction; the system didn’t work,” Brooks said. “The average person in D.C. that doesn’t have Internet access will miss out.”

According Hazel, the possible change is for efficiency, not to save money. “The District provides an appropriation of funds for DMV,” she said. “There is no financial incentive.” She noted that the District Council must authorize the move first, when it votes early next year.