AUSTIN, Texas - Lawmakers are learning as many as 3.5 million TxTag transactions were not billed on time. As a result, Wednesday officials with the Texas Department of Transportation announced a decision to waive late fees associated with the aged transactions. Nearly 30,000 people received paper bills when their electronic TxTag should have covered the toll.
"I'll begin by apologizing to our customers and the citizens of this state for this issue," said John Barton, the deputy executive director and chief engineer with TxDOT.
The scope of the problem seems to be larger than lawmakers originally anticipated. State Senator Kirk Watson grilled a Xerox Corp. vice president over how the company has handled billing and customer service.
""It's a very frustrating thing because everyone sitting there knows they are acting in an inexcusable way and that Xerox has created a disastrous situation in central Texas yet I get told over and over again that they are working on it," said Watson. Watson calls the public announcement waiving late fees a step in the right direction. The move could bring some relief to drivers who are caught up with trying to sort out the billing issues.
Xerox Vice President for Operations Laurie Zavadil says the company has hired more workers to staff three call centers and call wait times are down. Watson raised another issue that deals more with the time it takes to get an answer or solve the problem not for the phone to be picked up.
It's not just drivers but also members of the Senate Transportation Committee who are dealing with their own TxTag issues.
"Full disclosure, I'm one of the victims," said State Senator Bob Hall, R, Canton. Hall explained how his .65 cent toll turned into $30 with the fees. One more shared a similar story and another senator explained how her staffer drove through on December 22nd and has yet to receive a bill.
Lt. General Joe Weber is the executive director for TxDOT and says neither the agency nor Xerox realized the scope of the problem concerning defective data. He maintains Xerox can handle the contract.
"I do feel comfortable with Xerox and that they can do the job and I feel comfortable we'll do a better job managing and overseeing that they do do the job," said Weber. Xerox received a $100 million contract for five years.
"Those we identify as late and didn't get a timely invoice we'll go to them with a refund and there may be others out there who we don't know about and we've got to get the communication thing worked out or they may bring it to our attention," said Weber.
TxDOT says it charged late fees and accepted payments and is now going back to reimburse those customers. The agency will reach out to people but expects to receive many more calls. Customer service centers have been set up to take calls in Austin, Houston and San Antonio. There are currently 130 representatives available to answer the phones.
Lawmakers want weekly progress reports from TxDOT and Xerox until the issues are resolved.