Texas toll road concerns: TxDOT executive director responds to ongoing TxTag complaints
AUSTIN, Texas - For years, Central Texans have voiced complaints about the TxTag toll billing system. Ongoing concerns have ranged from customer service wait times to faulty bills.
"This is the third time that I've had to call them and pay these charges separately from my TxTag account that I'm also paying into," said one customer FOX 7 Austin spoke to in December.
To clarify, TxTag is a toll billing operation while CTRMA is a toll road operator. There are multiple toll road operators in Texas that use TxTag or other passes to process transactions. If the driver does not have a tag, they are billed via Pay By Mail.
There are three toll tags in the state of Texas: TxTag, EZ Tag and TollTag.
"Those are all interoperable on all of the different toll roads in the state," said Marc Williams, executive director of TxDOT, which oversees TxTag. "But each of those toll roads may have a different operator that owns and maintains those toll roads."
For example, CTRMA operates the 183A Toll, 183 Toll, 290 Toll, Mopac Express Lane, 71 Toll Lane and 45SW Toll. TxDOT oversees the SH 130 Toll and the 45 Toll.
"There can be instances where you may get bills from different operators depending upon what toll road you're driving on," said Williams.
Even more confusion has resulted when TxTag customers with accounts that contain funds have received Pay By Mail bills from toll road operators like the CTRMA.
Williams said that problem stems from a vendor switch in 2021.
"One of the unfortunate outcomes of that was that in some instances some of the customer accounts were not being properly updated and those customers may have been receiving a bill from CTRMA when they were a TxTag customer whose account was in good standing," said Williams. "When you're talking about a back-office system that involves a lot of data...that's a lot to work through. The good news is that the vast majority of those issues have been resolved."
However, FOX 7 Austin has heard from customers as recently as this year still dealing with this issue.
"I have received two bills from CTRMA and NTTA saying I have a past due bill… I have a toll tag with automatic recharge with a credit card on file," said one TxTag customer that emailed FOX 7 in January. "I never received any information from TxTag indicating whether my card is expired or balance is low."
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"In some instances, that may be something on the TxTag side from a processing standpoint that we've been working to correct," said Williams. "But there are also some things that may be generating that on the customer side."
To avoid customer-caused issues, TxTag asks that customers make sure they are set up for auto-pay, so that there is no risk of an account running out of funds, and make sure a valid credit card is on file.
"Another one that doesn't happen as frequently, but when it does come up can be very problematic for the customer, is if a customer has a car and they sell that car through a private transaction, and through that process, they do not remove the original license plates on that car," said Williams.
That happened to a man in Burnet. FOX 7 brought you Ronald Farrell’s story last month. At the time of the interview, the person driving the car he sold had racked up more than $800 worth of bills from TxTag and the CTRMA that were getting sent to Farrell. Farrell said since then, TxTag has resolved the issue, but CTRMA hasn’t.
"We certainly will work with customers who have been unfairly directed bills their way," said Williams.
For example, he said TxTag will adjust rates for customers who have mistakenly received Pay By Mail bills to what it would have been had it been directed to their account properly.
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Another customer complained in April about glitches in TxTag’s system, including an issue with the auto-pay feature.
"If the TxTag toll system reader out on the toll road glitches, the consumer is burdened. If the system computers glitch the consumer is burdened…Apparently a software update was issued a few weeks ago and this requires anyone that is on the auto-pay to turn it off and back on to reset it," said the sender in an email to FOX 7. "This is crazy that the consumer has to fix the glitch. How would I have known to do this - they have not alerted me."
Williams said that could be "an example of one of the problems" that they "have worked through with the system." He again promised to work with the customer when situations like that do arise.
When it comes to license plate readers, Williams said they are almost 100% accurate.
"License plate readers are surprisingly accurate for all that they have to do. However, recognizing that we have about 1.6 million daily transactions…even if you're 99.99% accurate on that, there's going to be some issues where a license may not have been read correctly," said Williams.
An example Williams gave was an LPR having trouble distinguishing between the number "zero" and the letter "O."
"We go through and the system is able to recognize those areas that may be problematic and to take those instances and allow for even manual review to make sure that we're getting those correct when that occurs," he said. "But overall, they're very accurate."
Williams urged customers with issues to reach out to TxTag, but that’s been an issue in and of itself.
"Because of the horrible customer service that they have and the long wait times, it just kind of dissuaded me from even trying to fight it," said another customer that FOX 7 talked to in December.
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As it did for many industries, Williams noted the pandemic slowed the hiring process down.
"COVID had a significant impact on all types of businesses that were working in the customer service arena, being able to find people to answer the phones and to train them and to invest in them to be able to handle customers the way that we would like them to, and so that has been a really important focus for us over the past several years…And we watch and keep track of metrics like the call wait time," said Williams.
This comes as Central Texas explodes in population. Currently, TxTag has 1.5 million customers and 11 million accounts in total.
Over the past year and a half, TxTag has doubled its customer service representatives – adding more than 300 to the rotation. Customers can reach out by phone at 1-888-468-9824, in person at one of the customer service centers or via the web chat feature.
"We're here to help and we're here to respond to their questions," said Williams. "We're working hard to provide customers with options on where to reach out if they're having problems. We're working hard to make sure that they are aware of some of the steps that they can take on their side to make sure that their experience goes well…And then if there's a problem that comes up, please reach out to us, we want to hear from you. We want to help get whatever questions you have answered or whatever issues you have resolved."
There are currently multiple bills being considered by lawmakers that relate to toll roads, including HB 4231, which would pause toll collection in Texas for a year.
HB 3843 was approved by the House on Monday. If passed, it would require a study to be done looking into toll road operators including TxDOT.