AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas Department of Transportation leaders were in the hot seat Wednesday during the state’s Senate Transportation Committee, which had a hearing on an issue KXAN News has been following for you for months: frustrations over TxTag’s billing system. Lawmakers grilled TxDOT officials and the vice president of Xerox for the glitches. Xerox is the company handling TxDOT’s billing service.
“Actually, full disclosure, I’ve got to tell you I’m one of the victims,” said Sen. Bob Hall. “My encounter was to receive a bill several months after … the toll charge was $0.65; the late fees and other almost ran it to $30.”
“I’ll begin by apologizing to our customers and to the citizens of this state; they deserve to be better served than they have been recently,” said John Barton, TxDOT deputy executive director and chief engineer.
The Senate Transportation Committee found out 3.5 million transactions were not billed on time. TxDOT officials also say 30,000 people who had electronic TxTAGs on their windshields were billed incorrectly. TxDOT did say, though, that it will offer refunds and late fees will be waived on incorrect bills sent between June 2012 and July 2014.
Rep. Tony Dale, from Cedar Park, said Xerox should pay.
“I think, in the contract, the performance standards should be met. If not, they need to be held accountable,” said Dale. “I do want to say that TxDOT making the decision to refund customers that were inappropriately billed is a great step. I’ve been pushing for it since the beginning, and I’m very encouraged.”
Lawmakers want TxDOT to give weekly updates with how they’ve fixed problems. TxDOT officials say they hope to resolve customer service issues in the next two months.
There have been some signs of recent improvement at TxDOT’s customer service center following long wait times for people trying to get in touch with TxTag. Last week, TxDOT said 60 new call takers had helped cut wait times by more than half.
Xerox’s $100 million contract with the State of Texas includes handling customer service and the TxTag website.
Xerox official dodges questions from KXAN
After the hearing, KXAN Investigator Brian Collister attempted to speak with the vice president of operations for Xerox.
When asked if she could explain to the customers of TxTag why Xerox made so many mistakes during their takeover of the billing and customer service process, Laurie Zavadil responded only with, “I need to step over here, sorry.”
After fumbling sharp questions from lawmakers, she made a dash for the exit at the Capitol without answering your concerns.
“We’ve made our comments in the hearing, thank you,” another official said.
With that, the company’s public relations employee was left to put out the fire.
“We did anticipate a challenge,” Kevin Lightfoot said of the transition. “We did anticipate more calls coming in, and that’s why we began ramping up a second call center very early on.”
But early on there were several issues, and many frustrated customers were left with questions about their bills that no one was able to answer.
“That’s why we added a third call center,” Lightfoot responded.
TxDOT said that happened last week and helped cut wait times by more than half. But customers had been having issues since the switchover last summer.
“We have to apologize for the inconvenience,” said Lightfoot. “We can do better.”
Despite that inconvenience, TxDOT is standing by Xerox — but says changes will be necessary.
“I do feel comfortable that Xerox can do the job,” said Lt. Gen. Joe Weber, TxDOT’s executive director. “And I feel comfortable that we’re going to do a better job managing and overseeing, and working with Xerox to insure they do the job.”
This is on top of ironing out persisting problems TxDOT says Xerox actually inherited from the previous vendor.
“I don’t think they realized, nor did we, the extent of some of those damaged files and … the amount of mail-outs it was going to take to try to establish communications with people to solve them,” said Weber.
“We’re now going to have to work with Xerox to make sure we’re able to ramp up to manage the incoming demand,” added Bob Kaufman, TxDOT’s chief communications and marketing officer.
TxDOT executive director addresses issues
As the complaints about the state’s TxTag program continued to roll in, KXAN got answers from the very top of the state’s department of transportation. Hundreds of you have reached out to us about long wait times, busy signals and trouble accessing account information online while trying to resolve TxTag billing problems.
The transportation department recently penalized Xerox, the company contracted to operate the toll road, nearly $177,000 for system failures. TxDOT added Xerox now faces additional penalties of hundreds of thousands of dollars or more for its failure to meet contractual and performance obligations.”
When TxDOT wouldn’t agree to an interview, KXAN Investigator Brian Collister tracked down the executive director of TxDOT.
“The penalties and fines in the contract are not unusual,” said Weber, TxDOT’s executive director. “These penalties assessed were for failing to meet some milestones. The other opportunities or times where they could be penalized are for performance measures, and we’re reviewing that right now with Xerox.”
Weber maintains Xerox is a good company with a good reputation and TxDOT will continue to work with them.TxTag
“This has been a very complex and challenging transition in the data part here. And we have 102 million people with TxTags.”
A second round of delayed toll bills is affecting about 400 customers, according to Weber.
“I tell you, we’re very sensitive to that, we’re going to get it fixed, and we’re going to work very closely with Xerox to get it fixed,” he added.
Weber is hearing the complaints as well. Even from his friends.
“My friends call me all the time. We know what those complaints are and we’re working at them. Xerox is working to increase the number of people in their customer service. Again, this was a second bi-wave of past bills that we have sent out. So, we’re working very hard to get a handle on it.”
In a Feb. 3 statement, Xerox said:
“Xerox continues to work diligently to address transition processing issues related to the data, which includes an unusually large amount of aged data that was handled by the previous TxDOT vendor. The delay in billing is part of the conversion to a single account structure – no more separate bills (TxTag, pay-by-mail, violation) for the same vehicle. The temporary delay will have long-term benefits as all transactions will be posted to a single statement/invoice. Xerox has hired more than one hundred people to alleviate the wait time customers are experiencing.”