TxDOT: Toll system working ‘correctly’ despite hundreds of complaints

KXAN Investigative Reporter Brittany Glas interviews Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director James Bass on Wednesday at the State Capitol. (KXAN Photo
KXAN Investigative Reporter Brittany Glas interviews Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director James Bass on Wednesday at the State Capitol. (KXAN Photo

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- Despite hundreds of Central Texas drivers frustrated with the TxTag toll road billing system and customer service, the state agency in charge says the system, for the most part, is working “correctly.”

Following KXAN’s investigation into TxTag’s customer service practices and the 2.2. million accounts sent to collections this year, we asked viewers to send us their bills. We shared those bills with the Texas Department of Transportation on Nov. 2.

"We've received the 161 accounts and invoices that you sent us," said TxDOT Executive Director James Bass. "Out of the eight million in active accounts that we have, we've looked at those invoices that you sent us, and on 156 of those the system operated correctly. Four of them, there were system issues that we've either addressed or, in the middle of addressing right now."

Bass, who spoke with KXAN after leaving Wednesday’s Senate Transportation Committee at the State Capitol, said about a quarter of the accounts we shared with TxDOT were due to drivers not properly updating their address.

Still, a number of bills KXAN shared with TxDOT were for different concerns, such as drivers having a TxTag sticker and credit card on file but receiving paper bills instead of their accounts being automatically debited. We also heard from viewers who claim the toll cameras didn’t properly capture their TxTag sticker or license plate, which resulted in improper billing and eventually inflated collections fees, which are $25 per individual toll.

"I just received this toll bill in the mail. Problem one is that I have a credit card on file, but after receiving this bill I looked and it hasn’t been charged since June," one viewer wrote KXAN last month.

Drivers with a TxTag sticker get a discounted rate, but another viewer said they received a bill by mail for the normal rate, despite having a sticker.

"The toll reader inexplicably could not read my TxTag on a few occasions. It makes no sense since, on the same day, it was able to read it before and after those failures to read," the viewer wrote. "When asked why the toll authority is unable to cross-reference my license plate with my TxTag, thereby confirming that I qualify for the reduced rate, they informed me that a separate vendor handles the failures to read. Consequently, I'm being punished for their equipment failure and outsourcing billing types."

With millions of Texans facing collections fees, drivers statewide have racked up nearly $1 billion in collection fees owed.

State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said the sheer number of individuals affected by the system is an indication it may not be working properly.

"That's something that we should be worried about in looking at those collections rates," Kolkhorst said. "Sometimes I have constituents that send me letters or pleas of emails and phone calls to say, 'I went through three tolls but by the time I paid my bill, it was you know, $45 instead of $4.'"

Kolkhorst is a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, which met Wednesday at the Capitol to discuss certain transportation funding, as well as the impact of Hurricane Harvey on the state’s transportation infrastructure.

Kolkhorst has long been an advocate for toll roads no longer requiring drivers to pay a fee once the road is paid off. With many drivers using toll roads to get to and from work, she compared toll roads to an added utility bill that’s taking away from everyday workers’ disposable income.

"The toll roads were necessary when we weren't correctly funding or adequately funding our highway system. They're still going to be part of our system, but I'm hoping less, you know, a lesser part of our system," she said. "I've said for a long time that toll roads can almost become like a new utility bill for our constituents and that's difficult."

With many drivers saying they never received a bill in the first place, Bass said the reason the collections agency is able to track down the drivers to send them a collections letter is because they have "different methods available to them."

Bass said new legislation will allow drivers to provide TxDOT with their email address in order to better locate customers electronically, as opposed to relying only on mail communication.

That legislation will affect more than 6.8 million individuals who had Pay By Mail accounts with TxTag as of Aug. 31.

"Going forward, we'll have the opportunity -- should the customer opt in -- they'll have the chance to send us their email address," Bass said. "We'll be able to locate them much easier through their email address."

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