The Florida DOT has been in damage control mode after a massive failure with its new customer service system.
It was a rough summer for Florida’s SunPass tolling system and the Florida Department of Transportation. For nearly two months, FDOT has been cleaning up a mess that included approximately 90 million unprocessed transactions.
The recent fiasco with SunPass began in June. It was then when FDOT acknowledged that SunPass customers were either not able to pay their recent tolls or charges that were available were incorrect.
On June 21, FDOT announced that the Florida Turnpike Enterprise will not be collecting late fees or penalties as the rollout of the Combined Customer Service Center experienced numerous problems. A maintenance period that was to last only a few days kept the SunPass system offline for nearly a month.
FDOT Secretary Mike Dew put Conduent State and Local Solutions, the contractor hired to implement the customer service system, on notice.
On June 28, Dew sent a letter to Dave Amoriell, president of Conduent. According to the letter, the system “continues to not meet the performance requirements of the agreement.” Among the many operation deficiencies were the call center, website interface and the functionality of the mobile app. Perhaps most notable to customers was the inaccurate processing of transactions.
Some SunPass customers began noticing duplicate transactions in their account. As a result, FDOT could not transmit a large percentage of transactions. Dew noted in the letter that approximately 90 million transactions had not been processed because of the lack of reliability with Conduent’s data.
Dew requested that Conduent provide adequate assurances within 10 days of the letter that the problems will be fixed.
Eventually, FDOT got caught up with pending transactions, but the damage had been done.
Holding the contractor accountable for the problems, FDOT decided to withhold payments to Conduent until all of the problems with its Centralized Customer Service System were fixed. Problems have been fixed, but Conduent is still on the hook for any overdraft charges incurred by customers.
However, lawmakers were not content with the punishment handed down to Conduent. On July 30, two U.S. senators stepped in.
Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., sent a letter to FTC Chairman Joseph Simons, requesting the agency take action against Florham Park, N.J.-based Conduent State and Local Solutions, for violating the Federal Trade Commission Act. The act prohibits unfair practices that causes substantial harm to consumers that cannot be reasonably avoided.
In the letter, the senators claimed that Conduent had financially harmed the driving public with their contracts allowing it to administer and maintain electronic tolling systems with several state departments of transportation.
Local lawmakers were not satisfied with the shifting of blame to the contractor. On Aug. 9, Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott, requesting the removal of Dew as FDOT secretary. Jacobs’ letter to the governor came after three previous letters to Dew went unanswered.
“Your hand-picked leader to oversee our state’s transportation department is willfully acting in subordination of these requests,” Jacobs wrote in the letter to Gov. Scott. “The disrespect this secretary has shown is beyond reproach.”
All of this transpired in less than two months despite the whistle being blown by a truck driver four years ago.
OOIDA member John Northrup, a trucker from Plant City, Fla., is no stranger to the inefficiencies of SunPass.
In 2012, Northrup said he noticed he was being charged for six or seven axles on his five-axle combo. After getting nowhere with SunPass, Northrup filed a lawsuit against FDOT in 2014.
FDOT and Northrup eventually settled. Part of the settlement included FDOT notifying customers of possible overcharges. About a year after the lawsuit was filed, FDOT signed a contract with Conduent for a customer service platform dealing with transactions.
In the official settlement, FDOT agreed to post language conspicuous to customers advising that the department strives to provide the best equipment possible, but errors in charges may occur, so customers should review for accuracy.
Northrup’s settlement with FDOT was signed in September 2016. Conduent signed the contract with FDOT in November 2015. FDOT denies Northrup’s claims regarding a connection with his lawsuit and the contract with Conduent.
“The Centralized Customer Service Center (CCSS) contract was not a result of the Northrup lawsuit,” FDOT spokeswoman Kim Poulton told Land Line.
Some of Northrup’s toll transactions were among the 90 million unprocessed transactions. As of Wednesday, July 18, 11 of his transactions have posted. Of those 11 transactions, he claims six are incorrect, and that the reason for the overcharges is the same as it was more than four years ago: too many axles.
Despite the ongoing problems and warnings from fellow truck drivers that going after FDOT would be a fruitless effort, Northrup is still convinced it was not for nothing.
“If nobody fights, it just goes on and on and on,” Northrup said. LL