- Ben Wear American-Statesman Staff
The Texas Department of Transportation, still unraveling the extent of software and billing woes discovered in its electronic toll tag system last year, this week began sending what in time will be $1.7 million of refund payments to tollway users who last year received bills for travel in some cases more than two years earlier.
TxDOT officials said a much larger but at this point unknown amount of fines and fees will be forgiven from other customers’ bills for similarly musty drives on TxDOT tollways. And the agency has already credited to 31,000 TxTag accounts, money due those account holders after they were wrongly charged at a higher rate. TxDOT on its tollways typically charges 33 percent more to people who do not have a toll tag and thus must be billed based on the car’s license plate number.
That last figure could go up in the coming weeks, but TxDOT officials couldn’t say by how much at this point.
“We found more,” TxDOT executive director Joe Weber said at a news conference the agency called Tuesday in anticipation of yet another legislative hearing Thursday on the TxTag issue. “As we validate accounts, we’re going to get money out to them.”
The TxTag troubles surfaced in July when the agency transitioned from the companies that previously handled its TxTag and pay-by-mail operations — a company later acquired by 3M and URS — to Xerox, which had landed a five-year, $100 million contract to run the TxDOT backshop operation.
The switch was immediately rocky — a purposeful shutdown of the system lasted several days longer than predicted — and the troubles only escalated through the rest of year. People began to receive bills for what TxDOT earlier this year revealed was 3.5 million toll transactions incurred between June 2012 and March 2014, and those bills included not only usually large and distressing clumps of old tolls but also late fees for failing to pay them.
“The database that Xerox inherited was much more tainted than anticipated,” Weber said Tuesday.
Many of those who got the old bills went ahead and paid them, including the late fees, and it is those customers who will be getting the checks from TxDOT that started going out Monday to pay them back for the late fees. But an even larger, unknown number of people did not pay those bills.
Those vehicle owners, Weber said, will eventually get bills for the tolls alone, with the late fees taken out. That may or may not be enough to satisfy the agency’s legislative critics, some of whom have suggested that tolls that old should be wiped off the books completely. State Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park, is carrying House Bill 3108, which would require TxDOT to send initial bills for tolls within 30 days of when they were incurred and limit administrative fees for non-payment to the lesser of $100 or 6 percent of the unpaid tolls.
The bill, filed just before last week’s deadline, has not yet been assigned to a committee.