For Whom the Bridge Tolls

RI residents charged erroneous EZ Pass fees

It has become a popular and efficient way to negotiate toll roads and bridges in more than a dozen states. And for many, EZ Pass is simply a matter of economics. To get across theNewportBridgeit’ll cost $4 if you pay cash. ForRhode Islandresidents with an EZ pass – 83 cents.

That has resulted in the vast majority of the 25 million vehicles crossing the bridge since 2008 to useEZPass.Lance Edwards is now one of those motorists.

“I go toPrudenceIslandmaybe two or three times during the winter,” Edwards said. “And when they increased the cost of the tolls considerably, it literally would have cost me $8 roundtrip.’’

So Edwards, who lives inExeter, had a choice: go to an office on theJamestownside of the bridge and purchase a transponder, or order one from the distributor in New Jersey, ACS Inc., which is now owned by Xerox.

Edwards ordered online and when his transponder arrived last month there was already a charge for $2.35 from an exit nearWorcesteron the Massachusetts Turnpike – two days before it got to Edwards’ house. He said he probably wouldn’t have checked the bill, but his sister-in-law warned him the same thing had happened to her.

ACS ships the transponders inside an envelope and the transponder is supposed to be wrapped in a Mylar bag: to keep the device from being read – and charged – by tolling agencies during shipping.

Edwards: So when I opened the box, the first thing I see is the transponder wrapped in a very thin bubble wrap. Underneath that was my original paperwork, and underneath that is an empty Mylar pouch. Flat with nothing in it.

When he called ACS inNew Jersey, a representative insisted he must have been on the Mass Pike. When Edwards pressed them, they agreed to reverse the charges.

So we posed the scenario to David Darlington, chairman of theRhode IslandBridgeand Turnpike Authority, which oversees the EZ Pass system inRhode Island.Darlingtonwas initially skeptical, but after doing a little digging on his own discovered Edwards’ claims were was true.

“(ACS is) aware of it and their chosen method to deal with it is, if somebody calls they’ll make an adjustment,’’Darlingtonsaid. “But that’s not how we operate. It shouldn’t be charged – simply because somebody trusted us and didn’t look at their bill doesn’t mean they should be charged for things they didn’t do or didn’t incur.’’

As a result, Darlington has ordered the the Bridge and Turnpike Authority staff to work overtime to review every one of the 40,000 EZ Pass transponders shipped from New Jersey since the program began here in Rhode Island four years ago. Up until now, he said, there hadn’t been many complaints.

He’s now found that about 4 percent of the 40,000 transponders shipped fromNew Jerseythe past four years had improper charges. The average charge was about $4, but one account totaled $12. The authority is contacting those who were improperly charged to notify them of a refund.

ACS has accounts with the majority of the 25 EZ Pass agencies in 14 states,  includingRhode Island. Last week, the board of the Bridge and Turnpike Authority RhodeIslandvoted to cancel its contract with ACS, something it had planned to do months ago anyway before we raised the issue of improper charges – because of other issues it had with the company.

An ACS spokesman inKentuckytells the Hummel Report that the improper charges are “a rare occurrence impacting a small fraction of drivers who receive their transponders through the mail.’’

In a statement, it said: “We have identified the issue and taken immediate steps to rectify it. We expect no further similar problems. Any transponder inadvertently charged, will have their account credited. We apologize for any inconvenience.’’

“I think a lot of bigger tolling agencies, you know these kinds of issues would be acceptable and they would say this is how we’re going to process through,’’Darlingtonsaid. “This little agency here inRhode Island, we try to be a little more proactive about things. If this issue had been raised to us earlier, we would have done it earlier and taken care of these customers. The process shouldn’t be: we’re going to charge you for something you never did, and unless you pick it up and call us, you have to eat the cost of it. That just shouldn’t be.’’

“For something like that to happen and have millions of transponders sent out annually you’d have to have a very inefficient shipping department and a manager that isn’t doing his job,” Lance Edwards said.

Darlingtonsaid from now on all of the transponders will be shipped fromRhode Island.

 

The Hummel Report is a 5013Cnon-profit organization. If you have a story idea or want make a donation to the Hummel Report, go to www.hummelreport.com. Or mail Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.com.

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