AUSTIN (KXAN) – Following hundreds of complaints from frustrated drivers, KXAN investigators continue holding the state’s toll authority accountable for billing problems. Now, TxTag will soon consolidate its customer service and collections process and is enhancing its efforts to verify billing addresses.
KXAN initially began investigating TxTag customer service, collection fees and billing practices last June. In the months to follow, KXAN uncovered the state’s tolling entity contracting with an aggressive collections agency, racking up nearly $1 billion in fines alone to customer accounts. Soon after, the Texas Department of Transportation, which oversees TxTag toll roads, stopped sending accounts to collections altogether.
Now, TxTag is dropping its collections agency and a new law will begin capping administrative fees at $48 during a 12-month period starting March 1. But, drivers are still confused about what the changes mean for their outstanding bills, which have fees upwards of thousands of dollars.
On Wednesday, Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, said TxDOT told him TxTag customer service will waive 50 percent of customers fees if they sign up for a TxTag. He said the collections agency is also authorized to waive up to 85 percent of fees through the end of the month.
One viewer told KXAN the collections agency offered to give them a 70 percent discount if they pay their account in full by Feb. 28. But with the new law going into effect the next day, some drivers aren’t sure if paying for fees they dispute is their best option.
KXAN has asked for clarification on behalf of our viewers regarding what happens to fees that aren’t paid by March 1 or if individuals who paid fees before “substantial discounts” were offered will be refunded. But, even state lawmakers who reached out to TxDOT aren’t getting a straight answer yet.
Pickett is encouraging residents to reach out to their senators, representatives and the Texas Department of Transportation to express any concerns they may have about how a new law capping toll fees will affect their accounts.
“I don’t believe TxDOT has made a definitive decision on what to do with the past due (bills) and they could be influenced,” Pickett said. “My opinion, the opinion of your viewers and readers online could sway TxDOT into what to do with those past due bills.”
Pickett said since the new law only addresses fees added to accounts after March 1, it’ll be up to TxDOT to determine what to do with the fees accrued before then. That’s why he said it’s important for people to reach out to the state agency and voice their opinion.
“Bill them for the toll, bill them for what we’re going to charge going forward, but it’s going to be almost impossible to collect some of these exorbitant fees and it’s really made up money,” Pickett said. “It’s not money out of our pocket. We didn’t give you a loan and you didn’t pay it back. This is funny money. It didn’t really exist.”
When discussing the new cap on fees at last month’s Texas Transportation Commission meeting, Commissioner Jeff Austin praised TxTag customer service.
“Over 95 percent of the calls that come in are related to two issues: I’ve either sold my car or my credit card doesn’t work and there’s a shared responsibility here,” Austin said. “…Y’all are doing a great job of updating the records as we get them on a regular basis from the DMV and I want to say thank you.”
Still, State Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park said KXAN’s investigation prompted him to ask TxDOT questions of his own when it comes to how the state’s TxTag contractor, Conduent, is handling customer billing.
•TxDOT Executive Director James Bass
•TxDOT public information officers
•Texas Transportation Commission
•Your state senator or representative
“Conduent has agreed to do what’s called skiptracing so that if someone has moved – and this is a problem with people moving and not updating their information, but now Condent does this skiptracing,” said Dale, who has two toll roads in his Central Texas district. “That should result in more people getting their bill in a more timely manner, and I really think it’s partly as a result of you guys asking that question.”
Dale said he thinks it’ll be at least another year before TxDOT transitions to a system that’s responsive to toll road users.
In the meantime, the House Transportation Committee, which Pickett is a member of, will study toll transparency and the Pay by Mail billing technology, after being tasked to do so by House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. And, KXAN is continuing to help viewers find ways to resolve their account troubles with favorable results, including delivering hundreds of their bills straight to TxDOT leaders.
“KXAN is doing a great service,” said Jason Whitson, who got a TxTag bill for a motorcycle he sold about 15 years ago. KXAN tracked down the Texas Department of Motor Vehicle documents Whitson needed to prove the vehicle on the TxTag bill he received wasn’t his.
“It’s a shame the services our tax dollar support can’t be run like real business that puts their customers first,” Whitson said.