TxDOT: Toll Billing Problems Being Addressed

Interstate 45 Gulf Freeway's HOV and Toll lanes exit into Metro's Eastowood Transit Center in Houston Friday, October 19, 2012.
Interstate 45 Gulf Freeway's HOV and Toll lanes exit into Metro's Eastowood Transit Center in Houston Friday, October 19, 2012.

Amid complaints from drivers about confusing bills and shoddy customer service, the Texas Department of Transportation said Thursday it is working to address concerns with its new toll billing system.

TxDOT signed a five-year, $100 million contract with Xerox last year for the company to take over its tolling operations, including billing and customer service. In recent months, some drivers on Texas toll roads have faced bills that were higher than they expected. Adding to their frustration? Long wait times on customer service calls and difficulty accessing accounts online.

TxDOT Chief Financial Officer James Bass said in an interview Thursday that the confusing bills were related to the transition to Xerox’s billing system. The old system, which involved five different vendors, often created multiple accounts for a single driver if, for example, that driver used a toll road but the credit card connected to their TxTag had expired. Mailing a bill to that driver would create a new account for them. In some cases, drivers were getting three different statements for the same account.

Bass said the agency wanted to make sure the new contract would ensure each driver was tracked in a single account, regardless of unexpected billing situations. The challenge has been merging those millions of accounts while transferring them to the new system, which led to a delay in bills being sent out last year.

“This won’t be the case every time,” TxDOT spokeswoman Veronica Beyer said. “This is just the catch-up period.”

 

State contracting is drawing more attention from lawmakers this session amid concerns about a no-bid contract awarded to 21CT, an Austin tech firm, by the Health and Human Services Commission. State leaders including Gov. Greg Abbott have vowed to beef up contract oversight. Bass said the Xerox contract was the result of a competitive bid process, as are the vast majority of TxDOT contracts. Xerox is currently in the middle of a lawsuit with HHSC over a state contract that agency officials allege led to millions in improperly spent funds.

Bass said that despite complaints from some drivers that their bills were higher than they expected, no one is getting charged extra because of last year’s billing transition.

“If there is a circumstance, I haven’t seen it yet, and if there is, we want to know about it because that’s not what our plan was,” Bass said. “If this is the first time you’re getting the bill, there’s no late fee.”

The confusion over the billing has increased calls to TxTag's customer service and lengthened wait times to speak to a representative. TxDOT has directed Xerox to beef up staffing at its Texas call centers to reduce wait times, Bass said. 

TxDOT won’t pay extra for the additional staffing because its contract with Xerox is based on “performance standards” that ensure that Xerox's call centers will answer 85 percent of calls within a minute, Bass said.

Xerox spokesman Kevin Lightfoot described the current customer service situation as “unacceptable" and said the company was currently training people to boost call center staffing by 20 percent.

“We want to implement a system that we’re proud of, TxDOT’s proud of and is efficient for all drivers," Lightfoot said.

 

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