TAMPA, Fla. — If you’ve had problems with SunPass, you’re not alone. It turns out Florida’s airports -- including Tampa International -- have also had their share of headaches with the company behind the toll system.
Passengers at Tampa International have more than a few stories to tell when it comes to using the SunPass system for parking. Especially when trying to leave the airport -- with one issue often leading to backups.
“Oh, it takes a few minutes. It’s a hassle,” said Norma Thomas, who travels through the airport frequently.
“Sometimes it’s slow. Or sometimes it doesn’t work,” said customer Rebecca Campagna, entering the airport parking garage Tuesday. “It does hold you up. And if time is ticking it can be a little nerve-racking,” she said.
Already infamous for the billing boondoggle that’s lasted more than a year, the company behind SunPass, Conduent, hasn’t been making many new friends at Florida’s airports.
“That was not a very good customer experience. And that is not what we are about,” said Tampa International Airport Director Joe Lopano.
Lopano says the SunPass system, designed to make parking an easy-in easy-out experience, has instead led to headaches.
It’s not the kind of customer-friendly service the airport has earned a reputation for.
“So, we have to work with these vendors to make sure they have their game at the same level as we do,” said Lopano.
Airport workers say they share individual customers’ frustrations.
At one point they discussed pulling the plug on SunPass until they could get the system to run more reliably. They even sat on hold -- like the rest of us -- for more than an hour waiting for answers a few weeks back.
“Basically, it was a computer server problem, the way I understand it,” said Lopano. “And so, the way those things come to your attention is when people start backing up on the roadways.”
Another challenge with using SunPass is that it electronically registers the time of arrival but there’s no printed receipt. And without a hard ticket in-hand, it’s not as simple as just driving to another line and paying with cash or charge.
“I don’t know how they would know, but I know when I have a problem and there’s an attendant standing there, and they see I have a problem they say what’s going on,” said Campagna.
Airport officials say it’s improving slowly. Over the last few weeks they haven’t had any major problems, and Conduent, they say, has told them that they’re working on a more reliable server system that would separate out airport tolls from others.
That idea could take several more months to implement.
In the meantime, it is clear that frustration is mounting with the beleaguered automatic tolling system, and not just among individual customers.
“That’s not acceptable for Tampa International Airport. That is not the way we operate,” said Lopano. “People don’t expect to have hassles at this airport and we want to lower it. So, we have to work with the vendor to fix these problems.”
In a statement from the Florida Department of transportation, speaking on behalf of SunPass, the agency said it understands the frustration experienced by customers during the implementation of upgrades to the system.
For more than a month, 10Investigates has asked FDOT how much customers owe the state in unpaid tolls from the backlog.
Tonight, they still do not have those numbers.
We're told Conduent and Florida Turnpike are working on getting numbers for us.
They can't say why it is taking more than a month to gather those.
The Hillsborough Expressway Authority provided the amount the same day we requested it.
10Investigates reporter Courtney Robinson contributed to this report.
Timeline: Florida's SunPass problems
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