ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Hours after 10Investigates revealed a concerted effort by the Florida Department of Transportation to downplay its SunPass crisis, the agency abruptly announced the end of its relationship with a longtime consultant who in June, who had unsuccessfully suggested the agency be more transparent on the growing problems.
INTERACTIVE TIMELINE: 10Investigates' ongoing SunPass series
On Wednesday, 10Investigates reported on internal FDOT emails from mid-June that revealed how the agency developed its response to questions from SunPass customers and media outlets, including 10News.
Agency spokespersons frequently ignored simple questions, instead choosing to communicate almost exclusively through optimistic press releases. But on multiple occasions, consultant Leigh Anne Yarbrough, president of L Squared Business Solutions Inc, suggested a different approach as the planned "six-day maintenance," scheduled to be done June 11, stretched into weeks.
"We are also disappointed by these first few days...the rollout of the new system should have been far better," Yarbrough suggested writing to SunPass customers on June 12.
But FDOT executives instead decided for a less detailed, less conciliatory approach to its customer email update sent to millions of SunPass account-holders.
A week later, 10Investigates broke the news that FDOT had not processed any tolls statewide since the start of the month and its backlog of unprocessed transactions had grown to 50 million. A month later, the state continues to refuse to acknowledge the depth of its problems, estimated by 10Investigates to include a backlog of now approximately 133 million transactions.
Other SunPass developments exposed by 10Investigates:
- June 26 - Florida chose a contractor with a long history of problems
- June 26 - Governor Scott has few specifics on his actions
- July 3 - FDOT's claim that system is restored is far from whole story
- July 5 - State continued to award contractor more money as problems mounted
- July 5 - SunPass contract lacks proper financial penalties in case of failure
- July 15 - FDOT completely unable to process toll-by-plate transactions
- July 17 - Contractor still collecting payments on other FDOT contracts
- July 18 - FDOT executives have coordinated to downplay crisis and keep information from media
FDOT officials confirmed Yarbrough's departure Thursday; attempts to reach Yarbrough directly were unsuccessful.
State Representative Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, also penned a letter to Gov. Rick Scott Wednesday, calling for a full investigation into the contract and the forgiveness of more than $100 million in toll charges that are stuck in a backlog.
She told 10Investigates that "Tollgate" outraged her - not just for the system failure, but also the state's failure to communicate with the public and State House members.
If you are a Florida driver with concerns or problems related to SunPass disruptions, contact 10Investigates’ Noah Pransky at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or join the ongoing SunPass conversation on his Facebook page. And let him know who you think should be held accountable.
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