- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2002

Gone were the glass barriers between motor vehicle staffers and residents. Gone at least for one day were the long lines and, along with them, the furrowed brows and unhappy frowns on the faces of motorists trying to get their plates renewed in the District.
City officials and residents both agreed it was a good first day for the District's newly renovated Department of Motor Vehicles facility at 301 C St. NW.
"I had to get registered and get plates, and it only took 20 minutes," said an amazed Adrian Sumpter, 34, a Northeast resident.
D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, who will hold a budget hearing today on motor vehicles, said she, too, is pleased to see changes and improved services.
"We did run into some problems when C Street closed, but now, with it open and with the new centers, it looks good for residents," said Mrs. Schwartz, an at-large Republican who has been critical of the long-running problems in the District's DMV operations: computer malfunctions, inaccurate records and indifferent staffers sealed off from residents behind glass barriers.
The opening of the C Street facility is just one improvement the city announced yesterday. Officials also said D.C. motorists with blocked registrations will no longer have to trek over to the D.C. Bureau of Traffic Adjudication at 65 K St. to pay their tickets.
"If you have a block due to parking tickets or moving violations and you just want to pay, we will let you at any of the DMV sites now," said DMV Director Sherryl Hobbs Newman.
And once the new computer system is up and running, she said residents who have to go to the adjudication bureau "won't have to come back to a DMV site to get what they need," Mrs. Newman said.
The new $17 million computer system should be ready by the end of April or early May, Mrs. Newman said. The old system is more than 10 years old, and none of the programs is integrated.
"Our registration system doesn't talk with our licensing system," Mrs. Newman said.
DMV employees already have the hardware, with new easier-to-read flat-screen monitors and computers. But the computer software is still being tested.
"We are field testing the licensing part of the program, but we still need to test the registration renewal programs," Mrs. Newman said.
Once the system is up and running, Mrs. Newman said, residents will be able to get their license and registration renewed at the same counters at the same time.
City officials are optimistic the upgrades will prevent the sometimes outlandish mistakes that have plagued the department in recent years with duplicate plates. Last year, the department came under fire for mistakenly issuing parking tickets to a man who had been dead for 10 years.
Mrs. Newman said the renovation of C Street took about 2 months to complete and cost $600,000. But more "improvements and a new facility" are coming at the end of March.
"At the end of the month, we will close H Street [Northeast] and open a new facility at Brentwood," Mrs. Newman said.
D.C. motorists will be able to register at one of four centers in the District after Brentwood opens. In addition to the center on C Street, there are new DMV facilities in Georgetown and Anacostia.
At the Anacostia center, in the Penn Branch Shopping Center in Southeast, dozens of residents filled the seats, but only for a short while.
"It was as fast as I've ever seen," said Northeast resident Ray Devaughn, 21, who needed plates for his new car.
The addition of the Penn Branch facility has had a huge effect, Mrs. Newman said.
"When it first opened, the residents living across the river weren't using it," she said.
The DMV is also changing the way it handles automated traffic-enforcement tickets. Mrs. Newman said a problem reported by The Washington Times in January spawned changes in the way they were running the adjudication portion of the red-light and photo-radar program.
"We will create an electronic database for the automated traffic tickets like the one we have for parking tickets," Mrs. Newman said. The database should help employees more efficiently address a motorist's complaint about a ticket.


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