- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles started collecting higher licensing and vehicle registration fees yesterday, leaving residents complaining that driving in the city is becoming too expensive.

"This stinks," said James Arcara, 36, who recently arrived from Wisconsin. "It costs so much to have a car here."

The fee increases announced yesterday, plus the higher parking fines announced earlier by the Department of Public Works, are the result of budget pressures and higher internal costs, city officials said yesterday.

But customers in line at the DMV's Brentwood satellite office this week were outraged when they learned about the new fees.

"They're going up?" Southeast resident Curly Ray asked incredulously. "They could have sent out warnings or something."

The increase likely to annoy most motorists is the one for vehicle registration, which went from $55 to $72 for passenger cars. The fee for trucks and larger cars, including limousines and some sport utility vehicles, went from $88 to $115.

The cost of a standard driver's license went from $30 to $39, and commercial permits went from $90 to $117.

Virginia residents pay an annual registration fee of $30.50 for passenger vehicles and $35.50 for trucks and larger cars.

Maryland residents pay about $35 a year to register a car, paying for two years at a time.

The fine for illegally parked tour buses and commercial vehicles increased so much that drivers are talking about quitting their jobs. It went from $20 to $500.

"Most drivers I've spoken with think it is atrocious," said Vince Goins, 51, a driver for Florida-based WorldStrides, a student-educational travel company. "We pay our own fines, and this really discourages us from doing our jobs."

He said District officials are preying on motorists with few or no options, especially tour bus operators who face increasing road closures and restricted parking because of security concerns after September 11.

"The only thing we can do is pollute the city by dropping off our people and driving around for two to five hours," Mr. Goins said.

Officials with the American Bus Association, an organization representing 950 motor-coach and tour companies, are asking their congresswoman for help.

"The ABA has been working with [Delegate] Eleanor Holmes Norton on the parking issue," said Lori Levy, an association spokeswoman.

"A $500 fine can wipe out the entire income from several tours for our drivers," Miss Levy said.

She said the fines could deter tour companies from doing business in the city and cut into tourism revenue.

The city can earn about $2,000 to $5,000 from money spent by 70 to 80 passengers on a daytime tour bus, Miss Levy said. District coffers increase by $5,000 to $11,000 for overnight tours, she said.

At least one D.C. Council member who approved the new fees said it was a bad idea.

Fee increases "were done to raise revenue, and I think it was the wrong approach in the [2003] budget and would be terrible in 2004," said council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat.

The administration's plan was to use increased fees to offset an anticipated $323 million budget deficit. Mr. Evans, who is chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee, said the council did not want to raise fees to the level Mayor Anthony A. Williams wanted.

A D.C. school system employee who declined to be identified said, "Even though the fees were increased to close the budget deficit, it wasn't like [the city said], 'I messed that up.' So why should I have to pay for it? I guess it is one of those things we have to live with."

Council members approved the motor vehicle and public-works fee increases during budget deliberations in March 2002. They reapproved the fees when the budget was revised to deal with the expected deficit.

"The increases were strongly recommended by the mayor and would have been higher had the council not reduced them," Mr. Evans said.

But administration officials said parking and registration fees are equal if not less than those in most other major cities.

"If you compare the District to Boston, San Francisco, New York and anywhere else, our fees even with the increases are comparable," said Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mr. Williams. "If anything, the city's fee structure has not kept up with the times."

Times reporter Jabeen Bhatti contributed to this report

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