A former boss of mine was fond of saying: “You know technology is working the way it should when you don’t have to think about it.”
I’m reminded of this because like tens of thousands of Florida drivers these days, I’ve been wondering what the heck is going on with SunPass — the state’s automatic billing/collecting platform for toll roads from Wildwood to Wilton Manors.
Sign up for The Palm Beach Post weekly Opinion newsletter: Text Opinion to 444999
You see, if you drive a good amount for work or pleasure — especially between Interstate 4 and Alligator Alley — SunPass is one of those “conveniences” that we’ve all come to despise and depend on every day.
That’s why the mess that has been made of the online toll system since June 1 has got so many drivers who frequent Florida’s Turnpike, for example, spouting more noxious fumes than their vehicles.
And now these drivers — many, taxpayers footing the bill for this botched “upgrade” — are beginning to question whether they should shoulder the burden of tolls. And rightly so.
Around June 5, the SunPass Centralized Customer Service System went offline for what was supposed to be a week’s worth of upgrades. But work on the system dragged on for nearly a month, during which time SunPass customers continued to accumulate toll charges, but could not track them.
Many SunPass users have had difficulty using the customer service website, call line and app, and have seen wrong charges posted to their accounts — or no charges posted at all, despite passing through toll booths. Conduent State & Local Solutions, which has a $287 million contract with the state to run customer service technology for Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise, is working through a backlog of at least 100 million charges that weren’t processed.
Even though its tolling problems still haven’t been resolved, the state amended a second contract with Conduent on July 1, awarding the company about $100,000 more — paid in $10,000 monthly increments — to install new tolling software, hardware and equipment.
SunPass users are understandably pissed. And one can hardly blame them.
The state seemed to be a bit perturbed too. Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Mike Dew called the delays “completely unacceptable.”
“The department anticipates and expects that Conduent will continue to improve the operations of the SunPass call center, the website interface, the functionality of the mobile application interface and the availability and reliability of SunPass Plus, so that SunPass customers are provided the premium level of service they are entitled to expect,” Dew wrote in a July 16 letter to Conduent President David Amoriell.
Amoriell advised the week prior that the company had already made “substantial improvements in recent weeks and will continue to strive for your complete satisfaction.”
The issues remaining from the upgrade include the effectiveness of the SunPass website and mobile application; issues related to multiple charges being applied through the payment processing system; and problems with the expanded SunPass Plus application at airports, which was slow or unavailable in responding to airport gate systems when customers entered or exited parking facilities.
As part of the conversion, SunPass Plus parking was expanded from Orlando International Airport to include Miami International Airport, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Palm Beach International Airport and Tampa International Airport.
But since then, both PBIA and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood have shut down the SunPass Plus application because it was still having problems.
Dew, in the July 16 letter, told Maryland-based Conduent that the state was halting payments to the company until all the changes in the $287 million SunPass Centralized Customer Service System project are deemed “fully operational.”
Not so, according to Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis’ website. A day after Dew sent the letter, FDOT paid Conduent more than $265,000. On July 19, FDOT paid Conduent almost $10,000 more.
The second payment was tied to a different 10-year contract with Conduent worth more than $13 million that was signed in April 2017. According to the CFO’s website, that contract is for Conduent to provide “information technology consultation services” as a “toll equipment contractor” — the same service as the first contract.
Meanwhile, according to The Palm Beach Post’s Jodi Wagner, Orlando food delivery driver Mike DiMauro has started a petition asking SunPass to waive all tolls incurred by customers during the disruption of service to its customer service system. DiMauro also wants Conduent to pay for them.
“Why should we, the SunPass customers, pay for the tolls during their outage?” he told Wagner. “It’s SunPass and Conduent’s fault, not ours. Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi should go after Conduent and sue them for the toll money during the outage, not getting it collected from the customers.”
A novel idea? One that could certainly catch on?
DiMauro began his petition, in part, because he expects to be hit with a huge bill once all his transactions are posted. The petition, which has been shared on social media, was at 2,221 signatures as of Friday morning. DiMauro is still hoping to get more.
“I hope to get the attention of the state government and have action be done so that it would help the drivers out there,” he said.
Are you a SunPass customer? Take our poll and leave your comments here…