AUSTIN (KXAN) - KXAN Investigates gets the first look at a Texas Department of Transportation audit showing what went wrong with its TxTAG billing system for Texas tollways, why it took so long to fix, and what solutions are being implemented.
Tens of thousands of TxTAG customers experienced billing problems. For months and months TxTag customers complained to KXAN they experienced extraordinarily long hold times when they called customer service, long lines and big crowds at the service center, and continuous problems using the TxTAG website viewing and paying bills. KXAN has been asking questions of the state agency managing that system ever since.
Those complaints and few answers from the Texas Department of Transportation sparked outrage among state lawmakers at legislative committee hearings. The audit stems directly from those hearings and now TxDOT says it’s finally making progress toward ensuring those problems don’t happen again.
The audit shows TxDOT fumbled its management of the TxTAG transition to a new billing system and the performance of Xerox, the company being paid $100Million to operate it after it launched in June of 2014.
Lt. Gen. Joe Weber, TxDOT's executive director, asked for the audit which shows the agency's toll operations contract management was "unsatisfactory.” That's what led to customers being locked out of their online accounts and incorrect billing the agency had to refund.
We asked the head of TxDOT what the audit findings mean for TxTAG customers.
“The findings of the audit aren't necessarily a surprise, and you've basically admitted that this was an issue from the start. But what do you say to the folks who use these toll roads everyday about what you’re doing to address the issues in the audit?” asked KXAN Investigator, Brian Collister.
“I would just tell them that it's getting better and as a result of this audit and the action plans and some of the actions we've taken it's going to get better,” General Weber promised.
TXDOT's response to the audit includes: project managers getting additional management training throughout toll operations; updating violations processing system to make it more user friendly; the Toll Operations Division is now reorganized and led by a toll operations professional; and adding eight more people to help keep up with system growth.
KXAN shared the audit with Senator Kirk Watson, who had grilled TxDOT about the problems in the legislative committee hearings. He responded with a statement saying:
"This contract was a disaster from the start. The contract was seriously flawed and based on out-of-date information....The agency responded and I'm pleased to know they are well into implementing the recommendations from the audit."
General Weber tells KXAN he takes full accountability.
“I told you I think five or six months ago that I was responsible for it and I was going to fix it,” General Weber told Brian Collister. “I think we're well on our way to doing that. And I appreciate the patience and support of the general public out there, because they deserve to have the best toll systems they can,” he continued.
TxDOT’s contract with Xerox provides for financial penalties if performance measures aren’t met.
So far TxDOT has fined Xerox about $177,000. General Weber says there have yet to be additional fines, but that doesn’t mean more won’t come.
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