Thursday, October 28, 2004

The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles is failing to issue registration-renewal notifications to thousands of car owners, subjecting them to $100 fines for the violation.

“Renewal notices are not a legal requirement, but I absolutely believe they are mandatory for good customer service,” agency Director Anne C. Witt said.

Miss Witt said a problem with several older printers in the department’s 301 C St. NW headquarters has corrupted some batches of notifications. The printers are part of a system that automatically generates 60-day renewal notices each night.

“There have been issues with some of [the notices] getting out,” Miss Witt said. “We’re baby-sitting the printers.”

A typical notice lists the costs of renewing a vehicle registration, including the amount for outstanding tickets. It also provides the vehicle owner with payment options.

Miss Witt, who was confirmed as the department’s director by the D.C. Council in June 2003, said she does not know how many people failed to received a notice because of the problem, which began in at least September.

D.C. records show that there are 241,600 registered vehicles in the city, so about 40,000 of them could have been up for annual renewal in the past two months.

Several customers at the department’s Brentwood Plaza branch in Northeast said yesterday they did not receive notices, on which they depend.

“My intuition told me that something was wrong,” D.C. resident Joyce Caldwell said. “Something told me to look at the sticker.”

Ms. Caldwell said the city has notified her in the past, but this year, the tags on her white Camry expired without notice.

“The District government either doesn’t care, or they just want the [ticket] money,” she said. “They put everything else on TV, why didn’t [officials] tell people to check their stickers because [the agency] was having problems. …The District just doesn’t care, and it’s very sad.”

Wayne Dakins, a D.C. business owner, said he also was not notified and, in frustration, yesterday waved his $100 ticket for “failure to display current tags.”

Mr. Dakins said his tags expired Oct. 3 so his notice should have arrived the first week in August.

The District “could have notified residents instead of giving people $100 fines,” Mr. Dakins, 51, said. “I paid the $100 ticket today. This is an exercise in ignorance.”

Miss Witt said she told employees in the department’s Bureau of Traffic Adjudication to cancel tickets issued to vehicle owners whose registration lapsed because they did not get a notice.

But the department’s Web site,, does not inform motorists about the notification problem. The Web site states only the department’s policy of issuing renewal notices 60 days before the expiration of vehicle registrations, driver’s licenses and vehicle inspections.

Miss Witt said registration stickers include expiration dates that serve as a motorist’s “everyday notice.”

James Nelson, 77, also was at the department’s Brentwood Plaza office yesterday to renew his tags and learn why they had expired Oct. 12 without notice.

An employee was overheard telling him: “Sometimes you get it. Sometimes you don’t.”

A clerk told another customer that notification is now considered a “courtesy.”

“I think they should have let us know,” Mr. Nelson said. “Paying tickets is no good.”

Jane Perkins of Chevy Chase in Northwest came to the Brentwood office to change tags from one vehicle to another — only to learn that the tags had expired.

“I did not receive a notice in the mail,” she said. “My tags expired on Oct. 18.”

Miss Perkins said a clerk was “rather sympathetic,” because this obviously was not the first time she had faced the problem.

“I had no idea about my tags,” she said. “And, I hope things get turned upside down for failure to notify residents.”

Some department employees said they were frustrated about the problem and estimated that as many as 50 percent of vehicle owners up for renewal failed to receive notices.

Miss Witt said that technicians are working to fix the glitch and that the problem printers could be replaced within 30 days.

She said computer systems will be upgraded as part of the “one-done” service philosophy she and City Administrator Robert C. Bobb announced in January. The policy was created to expand services at motor-vehicle locations and cut in half by winter the number of in-person visits.

Miss Witt said that driver’s license renewal notifications are still being mailed regularly and that the problem has improved this week.

“It’s been kind of random,” she said. “Many of the batches have gone out regularly.”

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