It was a radio ad that caught a lot of people’s attention.
“There’s an easy way to make sure you pay the lowest tolls in Rhode Island. Beginning June 25th, they’re discounting transponders to just $10.”
Half-price, plus another $10 credit toward the tolls, making the purchase virtually free. It was a promotional offer by the Rhode Island Bridge and Turnpike Authority geared toward the start of the highly publicized tolling on the new Sakonnet River Bridge this month.
And it was an offer that Lou Najjar couldn’t pass up.
“I was taking advantage of the ad on the radio to get them less than half price what you normally pay for them. Plus you got a $10 credit in your account toward the tolls. So it was a sweet deal and I took advantage of it,” Najjar told The Hummel Report.
Najjar, who lives in Cumberland, wasn’t really concerned about the Sakonnet River Bridge tolls. He wanted a transponder because he was driving to Florida to visit family.
“It was about 2 1/2 weeks later. I didn’t receive anything in the mail and I tried to call and the phone would just ring and ring. I sent a couple of emails and there was no reply,” Najjar said.
That brought a quick response – and apology – from Bridge and Turnpike Authority Chairman David Darlington. “Clearly we should have answered the phone. Clearly we should have gotten back to him,” he said.
Darlington added that the advertising campaign was a huge success and then some. “There was some pent-up demand from folks who wanted to get the EZ Pass anyway and probably thought there would be some sort of arrangement and offer when new tolling came on line. It’s an excuse, but the excuse is we were a little overwhelmed by what happened. We’ve added and added and added and it’s grown and grown and grown, so we haven’t been able to quite keep up.”
Darlington says the authority received a total of 28,000 orders for the promotional period, 10,000 in the last three days when they announced the discount program was ending earlier this month.
That means the authority has now sold 173,000 transponders since the EZ Pass program began in late 2006. “I think a lot of folks sitting on the sidelines saying, ‘I still have time, I still have time,’ really came out and jammed up the AAA locations. And they certainly jammed up the center here,” Darlington said.
Najjar said there was no question the transaction went through. “As soon as I submitted the application online there was an acknowledgment that they received it and at the same time it was immediately charged to my credit card. (I felt) kind of misled. There wasn’t anything on their website that indicated that there was a delay or any way to find out what the holdup was.”
Darlington responded, “I apologize to anybody who’s tried to reach us in the last couple of weeks and been unable to. We’re prepared to handle the volumes that come in from this point forward.”’
In fact, Darlington said the authority hired additional people to process and package the transponders, which are being shipped from the authority’s headquarters in Jamestown. They also brought in extra personnel to a call center to answers questions, and explain delays.
“I understand there’s probably going to be a delay,” Najjar said. “I understand there are a lot of people who are waiting for their transponders who ordered at the same time I did. What’s frustrating is not getting an answer. If there was any way they could have communicated to me – or anybody else for that matter – that it would be a 20 to 30 day wait before getting them, I’d completely understand. But there were no phone calls and no response to emails.”
Darlington said what happened is simply unacceptable. “I think most people don’t think the government really cares about what’s going on. I think we start at a disadvantage so we try to go further over the top to make sure folks understand that we get it. I’m a Rhode Islander. I have the same sense of that when I deal with government, so when it happens here it sort of lights everybody’s hair on fire. Because we know we have to do a better job than that.”
Najjar received his transponder shortly after we inquired about it – and just in time for his trip to Florida.
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