Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Metro history: DDOT computerized its traffic-ticket system 32 years ago

October 5, 2011 - 12:25 PM
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A ticket for this D.C. driver in the '70s. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In 1979, the District Department of Transportation gave out two-and-a-half million traffic tickets, officials estimated at the time. Just imagine. Traffic tickets have long been a hassle for city drivers ... but have you considered just what a hassle coordinating all these tickets must have been for DDOT and anyone rummaging through that vast store of fees, dates, and slips of paper?

And how terrible that must have been before computers? Think of the hundreds of thousands of pieces of paper that DDOT once had to track.

We're spoiled these days, D.C. We have smartphones and Gchat and calendars and the weather on our iPhones and any number of things (some of us, at least — I'm still holding out for an iPhone myself). In any case, we have the world at our fingertips through the Internet and countless high-tech devices, whether cell phones, iPads, laptops, or the myriad other computerized systems we take for granted ... like our ability to use credit cards everywhere, SmarTrip cards, and now to even upload money online. We may complain about how slow the Bank of America website is these days, but the things is, we have Internet banking! The 21st century is a good time to be alive. As agonizing as our modern congested traffic may seem, these Metro history dispatches show that commuting was never as rosy as we imagine.

In the fall of 1979, DDOT finally took a great technological leap forward and began tracking their traffic systems through IBM computers, according to a December '79 issue of Computerworld. Advantages included the District's better ability to track the tickets rather than let the courts handle them, to coordinate year-round whether a person can register their vehicle or not depending on their outstanding tickets, and to avoid the redundancy of booting cars of drivers who have already paid off their tickets (which used to happen because hey, that's a lot of paperwork to process and coordinate). As acting DDOT director Harry Gray said at the time: "Once you've complied with the law, you shouldn't have to go through it again."

True enough. Thank God we don't live in the dark ages from before computers. Read the 1979 Computerworld article to learn exactly how DDOT automated their traffic ticketing to more efficiently and accurately make drivers' lives a nightmare:

Read more pieces of Metro history here.

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