7 On Your Side: D.C. DMV glitch prevents hundreds of tickets from being refunded

WASHINGTON (WJLA) - Seven On Your Side’s ongoing investigation into problems at the D.C. DMV uncovers a glitch with the DMV’s computer system that prevented hundreds of tickets from being refunded, and it’s an issue that could be have gone on for me than a decade without being detected.

Christen Eliason received a parking ticket that she didn’t deserve in February 2013. After unsuccessfully attempting to the challenge the ticket she called 7 On Your Side for help. After our reporting, the DMV agreed to refund the fine, but by early January 2014 that had not happened.

As part of our investigation into the six-month delay of Eliason’s refund, 7 On Your Side exclusively obtained internal DMV emails acknowledging a flaw in the DMV computer system resulted in about 450 tickets never being refunded, some dating back five years. At a minimum, that’s more than $11,000 worth of refunds.

John Townsend of AAA Mid-Atlantic calls it a systemic problem.

“That is unconscionable, that is inexcusable, that should never happen.”

On Jan. 10, 7 On Your Side’s Kris Van Cleave attempted to go to DMV Director Lucinda Baber’s office seeking answers about Eliason’s situation. The security guards at the DMV Headquarters building would not allow Van Cleave and his photographer Evan Carr to enter the facility. Later that afternoon, the DMV’s spokesperson Vanessa Newton provided a written statement.

“D.C. DMV is researching why there was a delay in processing the refund,” D.C. DMV public information offer Vanessa Newton tells 7 On Your Side by email.

A few minutes later, Newton added she anticipates the review “will be completed by the end of the month.”

But that may not be entirely true.

According to newly-obtained documents, DMV officials already knew what went wrong.

An email sent seven hours earlier from the agency’s vendor, Xerox, explained tickets like Eliason’s that were paid and then later voided showed up in the system as suspended, noting “the refund program does not do anything with suspended tickets so these are always bypassed. There are about 450 of them from the past 5 years.”

That email was among pages of documents obtained by 7 On Your Side through a public records request on Feb. 12.

“This is not the way we want this government to operate,” says D.C. Councilman Jim Graham, who is co-sponsoring DMV reform legislation.
“The fact that they seem to be withholding information, coupled with the fact they blocked your camera from entering the building last month, is extremely troubling," Graham says.

The DMV responded Wednesday to repeated requests for comment, saying 400 tickets are now in the process of being refunded. The glitch has been fixed, but the DMV acknowledged it could date approximately 15 years. The director of the DMV is expected to appear at an oversight hearing Friday.