TAMPA BAY, Fla. – Joey Santiago, 21, from Orlando wrote 10Investigates that he couldn’t afford to sit on hold for two hours waiting for a SunPass representative to fix errors on his account.
Monika Iwanow from Tampa wrote 10Investigates that she hadn’t heard back from SunPass after she was promised a response to her online dispute within two days. That was 30 days ago.
Also, dozens of other drivers have reached out to 10Investigates in the last month complaining about mysterious charges they can’t get reversed because of the customer service.
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has indicated the worst of the now-90-day SunPass collapse may be behind us, but a 10Investigates analysis of customer service records suggests otherwise.
According to internal reports, the state's response to the influx of SunPass complaints and questions has gotten significantly worse in recent weeks, even as the state touts progress on the technology failures that left millions of drivers with inaccessible accounts, backlogged charges and inexplicable bills they may not have been able to afford.
A report from FDOT contractor Conduent reveals the average wait time for calls into SunPass customer service was more than 80 minutes during the first half of August, with some callers having to wait as long as four hours and 52 minutes to get an operator on the phone.
Conduent reported 46,890 outstanding service requests from customers as of Aug. 22, up nearly 500 percent from just three weeks earlier. The "abandoned rate" of callers who hang up after they are unable to reach an operator has surged to nearly 50 percent, a grand failure according to SunPass' own standards.
10Investigates asked FDOT and the governor's office more than two months ago what the state was doing about the expected influx of customer issues and concerns once hundreds of millions of backlogged tolls were processed. However, the state had no details to offer, and it appears neither FDOT nor Conduent has done nearly enough since then.
According to Conduent's customer service reports, the company is "deficient" in handling the service requests. For weeks, it has told the state it would "increase service staff" and offer overtime for employees to work weekends and holidays.
Gov. Rick Scott called for an inspector general's investigation into the system failures, but no specifics of when the investigation would start or the scope of the investigation have been provided. The governor's office provided an update Wednesday that indicated the governor's audit director and FDOT's interim inspector general last met on Aug. 17 to "begin review planning independent of (FDOT) and contractor (Conduent)."
Here is a running report card of other SunPass problems 10Investigates has tracked:
Issue: Downplaying of problems; deceptive press releases; slow response to questions and records requests.
Concern: Floridians had no idea how bad the SunPass failures were until 10Investigates broke the news on June 19 that the state was unable to process tens of millions of toll transactions. It was another week before the state even acknowledged problems, and it continued to try and downplay the severity of the system disruption. No public notice was given when dozens of drivers’ personal data was accidentally compromised in July.
Response: After two months of 10Investigates stories, FDOT has only now just gotten more forthcoming with public records and SunPass-related information. But the agency still refuses to acknowledge interview requests and has released most information through deceptive press releases, rather than direct answers to reporters' questions. At one point, it even tried to send simple records via U.S. Mail, an apparent attempt to delay their release. Barbara Peterson, with Florida's First Amendment Foundation, said "FDOT needs to remember that there is a constitutional right of access to all non-exempt public records in Florida and they should be doing every thing they can to facilitate your ability to obtain records rather than obfuscate and delay.” And the public still has no explanation -- outside of 10Investigates' reporting -- of how 6 million customers were inconvenienced so badly.
Report Card: Unsatisfactory, but improving
Issue: The technology meltdown limited access to SunPass accounts, the SunPass website frequently crashes and billing was delayed by weeks and months.
Concern: Customers couldn't access receipts to get work reimbursements, got hit with large and unpredictable charges when tolls finally were processed. And the delays mean account errors are very difficult to spot and correct.
Response: FDOT, its partners and its vendors have been working around-the-clock to fix the computer issues, and they have announced there will be no fines or penalties on customers during the ongoing disruption. The toll backlog was finally cleared in mid-August for many SunPass users, but E-Pass and Toll-By-Plate customers are still seeing long delays in billing. The state has rolled out its plan to reimburse customers for bank overdraft fees. But account errors – of which there are multiple indications that there are plenty – are the responsibility of the customer to identify and report before refunds are issued.
Report Card: Improvement noted, with significantly more needed
Issue: Frustrated customers unable to get problems fixed
Concern: Some customers have to wait more than four hours to speak to representatives, and SunPass' promise to respond to emails within two days are going unfulfilled.
Response: An FDOT spokesperson says extra staff members have been dedicated to customer service but has been unable to provide specifics over the course of the last three months. In July, an agency spokesperson touted website improvements and Conduent's reduction of call center wait times. But, in August, the website continued to crash and call center wait times exploded as more drivers discovered unexpected and some inexplicable charges on their accounts.
Report Card: Failing
Issue: Contractors and FDOT all had a role in system failures; the state is not in a rush to sort it out.
Concern: Are contractors incentivized to get problems fixed fast? Will individuals who made big mistakes be disciplined? Will the state learn from mistakes to prevent it from happening again?
Response: The mid-August announcement that Florida's inspector general would investigate came only after 75 days and four 10Investigates interviews with Gov. Scott. No scope has been announced for the investigation, but the governor's office said it would likely be "broad." Payments were halted to Conduent in late June, but 10Investigates revealed the company is still getting paid on other contracts. The state announced an $800,000 fine to Conduent, and it said the company will pay for customers' overdraft reimbursements as well. However, no fines or penalties have been mentioned for corporation Atkins, the general contractor responsible for oversight on the project, or HNTB, the corporation that oversaw the awarding of the contract to embattled Conduent in the first place.
Report Card: Incomplete
Issue: Customers who use toll-by-plate or other mail billing have not received bills yet.
Concern: It appears the state has been unable to match all of the transactions to vehicle owners, delaying the posting of charges. Viewers are also reporting errors in plate identification, landing other drivers' tolls on their accounts.
Response: An FDOT spokesperson has been saying for months all transactions will eventually be billed to customers "once quality assurance processes are completed." The state finally acknowledged in mid-August invoices likely won't go out until October.
Report Card: Failing
►Want to view an interactive timeline of the SunPass maintenance woes? Click or tap here.