Stop the Presses: The DMV is Annoying to Citizens

I was so ready to praise the District of Columbia's electronic prowess. Then, just like a crash test dummy, I hit the wall at ...
by | January 9, 2009

I was so ready to praise the District of Columbia's electronic prowess. Then, just like a crash test dummy, I hit the wall at the Department of Motor Vehicles and got whiplash in terms of where my opinion stands.

Let's start with the good.

I was researching the Inauguration route for a travel story I wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer (for January 18) and for my travel blog, My editor asked me to identify two buildings in a photo I sent and I didn't know what they were.

So I went online to the DC home page and found a link called "Visiting DC." From there I clicked on "take the downtown bird's eye tour" and...well, I won't take you every step of the way but at some point I reached a page that gave me the opportunity to download a mp3 walking tour. Great! Who would have thought there would be so much good information online?

In the process of downloading, I found the directions a little confusing. And there, at the bottom of the page, was an email link asking for input about the Web site. So I mentioned that the directions were a little confusing. And explained why.

And was then shocked to receive an email thanking me for my input! Wow. Talk about responsive government. There was even a name attached. Someone at a cultural office who I could email again or call.

Like I said, I was all set to rave about DC's electronic responsiveness when, as a resident, I received an email about my vehicle registration renewal. Unfortunately, it contained a late charge that does not belong. DMV told me to call the inspection station, which is what the charge was related to.

The person at the inspection station agreed the charge was an error. But the only way I could fix it was to drive back to the inspection station and fix it in person. Wha???

I called 311 to make sure that was correct. Indeed it is. I asked why the DMV couldn't talk to the inspection station, take the charge off and allow me to renew by online.

Her answer? "It's not that simple, ma'am." Voice dripping with disdain. I didn't bother to say, "Why not?" I didn't think that would turn out well.

So now I will spend time and money to return to the inspection station on a morning before work so someone can do - I don't know what - that they couldn't do online or via a phone call to a sister office.

All I can say is...argh. And, perhaps, "Mayor Fenty, might I have a word?"

Ellen Perlman
Ellen Perlman | Former columnist |