Illinois Tollway procures new toll operations services from charities for the blind, mentally ill, disabled

September 22, 2012

2012-09-21: The Illinois Tollway is moving to award a $61.5m 5-year contract for call center services to a local blind people's charity called The Chicago Lighthouse. The board of directors customer service committee is recommending Chicago Lighthouse Industries (CLI) be contracted to manage and staff the Tollway's I-PASS call center available via 800-UCI-PASS. A formal decision will be made by the full board due to meet Sept 27.

The contract would end operations by TransCore, head-officed in Harrisburg PA but with major operations in Dallas TX, New Mexico and other states. TransCore operated the call center in Lisle IL, a suburb 24 miles due west out from downtown Chicago and not far from the head offices of the Tollway. In March 2005 ETCC won a strongly bid contest with TransCore to development a new the toll system including roadside and backoffice systems. 

The $78m ETCC contract provided for converting the Tollway's many mainline toll plazas to open road tolling with cash to the sides. The contract provided for development of the back office software. ETCC continues as the toll systems integrator.

We're told the contract did not cover back office services - call center, violations processing and transponder distribution and accounts management - which were separately procured in a contract won by TransCore.(CORRECTIONS under way)

Under the new contract now proposed 200 of the blind or partially blind would staff the telephone banks handling questions about I-PASS, the brandname for Tollway's electronic toll accounts. (I-PASS is interoperable with the E-ZPass group.)

Janet Szlyk president and chief executive of the charity: "The Chicago Lighthouse is thrilled beyond words by this amazing opportunity from the Illinois Tollway. We are very grateful to the Tollway for its vote of confidence in us and look forward to working with them in extending employment to hundreds of talented individuals who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise disabled.  With an unemployment rate estimated at 75 percent, jobs are critically important to this population."

Chicago Lighthouse Industries (CLI) describes itself as "a state-of-the-art manufacturer of high quality products for the commercial and government markets."

CLI says it has been producing a wide selection of precision wall clocks for over 32 years including custom clocks. They also make custom erasable custom wall planners/calendars and wall thermometers.

The Tollway describes them as "one of the nation's most comprehensive social service organizations."

They continue: "Housed under its roof are the oldest and most prominent vision care and rehabilitation programs in the US, a nationally acclaimed school for children with multi-disabilities, a world class employment services program, one of the few remaining clock manufacturing facilities in America, a veterans assistance program serving veterans in all 50 states and a radio station."

Telephone call centers and tolling seem to be a quite new line of business for them.

The contract which was negotiated, not competitively procured, will provide for CLI to train, manage and provide staff to:

- handle 8,000 to 10,000 customer contacts per day by phone, email and mail

- process an average 27,000 toll violation payments made by mail per month

They will operate from 2013 out of a new call center facility in leased space at the University of Illinois, Chicago building in downtown Chicago. The Tollway plans to also use university rooms for public meetings.

Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur is quoted in a statement: "Approval of this fourth contract with a not-for-profit organization is a major milestone for the Illinois Tollway. Under the guidance of our Board of Directors, we were able to dismantle one large contract for I-PASS services, some of which were performed in Texas, and spread the work among four not-for-profit companies located here in Illinois."

ETCC performed all these services under a single 6-year contract now expiring.  

The Tollway committed to bidding the work out through a "State Use Program" designed to provide jobs via not-for-profit or charitable rehabilitation agencies.

Three previous customer services contracts from ETCC were similarly let to charitable agencies:

- a $5.5 million 3-year contract with The Printers Mark, a subsidiary of Transitions Mental Health Services in Rock Island IL where they will print and mail violation notices and other enforcement work (at what the Tollway says is a 20% savings)

- a $2.6 million 3-year contract with Chicago-based Ada S. McKinley Community Services Inc an all round charity to do transponder fulfillment, mailing new transponders and disposal of old transponders (at what they say is a 10% savings over the previous contract)

- license plate image review has been moved to new facilities in Rockford (80mi NW of Chicago) and Galesburg (155mi SW of Chicago) operated by The Bridgeway Inc giving jobs to over 100 people with disabilities or veterans

Tollway Board Chair Paula Wolff is quoted in the Tollway statement: "We are pleased to support Governor Pat Quinn's commitment to providing jobs for people in underserved communities, especially veterans and people with disabilities. These proposed contracts are in keeping with the Tollway's desire to identify opportunities for small, not-for-profit businesses."

Illinois has a so-called "State Use Program" which they say is "designed to provide long-term employment opportunities for people working in not-for-profit community rehabilitation facilities."  The Illinois Department of Central Management Services says the program aims to use "the tremendous purchasing power of state government as a catalyst in employing severely disabled people."

The Tollway announcement says the four contracts with the disabled agenices will "improve efficiencies and business operations to meet the increasing demand for I-PASS customer service and timely violations processing."

COMMENT: it will be fascinating to see if these charities and their troubled workers can meet the Tollway's optimistic expectations.  Or more important the Tollway customers' expectations.

Count us skeptical, very skeptical.

If these charities were competitive in value with specialist commercial service providers like Faneuil, ACS, TransCore, ETCC, Kapsch and the like, then they'd be bidding in competitive procurements. And if the charities' people are so productive why don't they get hired in the open labor markets by the commercial contractors?

The fact that the Tollway has abandoned competitive procurement of these contracts and granted the work to the charities speaks more persuasively to us than the sentimentality of their public relations - editor.

previous reports on ETCC's contract



TOLLROADSnews 2012-09-21 CORRECTIONS Sept 24 10:00

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