Sloppy packing of transponders by ACS leads to charges in the mails - Rhode Island toll says

March 22, 2012

Sloppy packing of new E-ZPass transponders by ACS, the Xerox subsidiary seems to have led to a problem of toll transactions being charged in transit - before delivery - to customers. The transponders are supposed to be shipped in a metallic coated plastic pouch that shields the transponders from radio frequency toll gantry signal transactions in transit.

But a proportion of mailed transponders - 4% in Rhode Island - have been arriving with toll charges already on them.

The problem surfaced at the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) after a small number of customer complaints. David Darlington chairman of RITBA, the state toll authority says RITBA staff were asked to go through customer accounts and look for charges before transponder delivery in order to reverse those charges.

He thinks that although only 20 or 30 people complained, perhaps 1,600 were invalidly charged over the 3 1/2 years RITBA has had E-ZPass. The erroneous charges in transit have ranged between $2.35 and $12. The aggregate of invalid charges in Rhode Island appears to be between $5,000 and $10,000.

The problem arose from 40% of transponders ordered online that were shipped direct to RITBA customers from ACS in New Jersey via the US Postal Service (USPS.)

60% of RITBA's 100,000+ transponders have been issued at a local walk-in customer service center. These only get activated at the center in Rhode Island so they cannot be charged until issued.

Transponders shipped by USPS (mail) are set to activate automatically after 48 hours.

Darlington says that about 4 percent of transponders shipped to RITBA customers by USPS, or some 1,600 of 40,000 showed premature and invalid toll charges according to a staff review over the past several weeks. Apparently the mis-charges occurred in US Postal Service (USPS) trucks going under toll gantries on the Garden State Parkway, the New York State Thruway and the Massachusetts Turnpike.

The ACS mailings were picked up by the USPS in northern New Jersey and go via a sorting center in Worcester MA, so they travel Garden State Parkway's northern portion and hit the NY State Thruway in Spring Valley cross the Hudson River at the Tappan Zee Bridge and make their way via I-684/I-84 joining the Massachusetts Turnpike at Sturbridge MA for the short trip to a USPS sorting center in Worcester MA.

Darlington says most of the toll charges on route in the USPS trucks were on the Garden State Parkway with some at the NYSTA's toll point at the Tappan Zee Bridge and others on the Massachusetts Turnpike.

He thinks the problem was poor packing by ACS - failing to place them inside the RF shielding pouch. Plus he says a failure to move the transponders fast enough for the 48 hours delay in automatic activation to cover their period in transit.

The problem goes back to when RITBA started E-ZPass 3 1/2 years ago with ACS as their contractor.

Unhappy with response

Darlington says he has been unhappy with ACS response, saying they have not been straight with him. He says their first explanation was that transponders shook out of the RF-shielding pouch in transit, but the pouch fits so snuggly inside the shipping envelop this is impossible. And several customers told RITBA the transponders arrived in the plain paper envelop, unshielded - suggesting poor packing or poor supervision of ACS packing staff.

He says he was also unhappy at their attempts to minimize the issue. He says it is wrong to only reverse invalid charges when a customer complains, so RITBA has gone looking for invalid charges.

RITBA recently ended its contract with ACS, though that is a coincidence because the contract term was up anyway.

He says RITBA staff supported by France-based CS are now handling E-ZPass transactions for Rhode Island.

But he's sending ACS bills for RITBA staff time incurred in searching out the invalid tolls.  ACS is part of Xerox Corporation.

Darlington says he can't believe this only affected Rhode Island.

Jim Hummel a freelance reporter in Rhode Island broke the story:

Hummel calls ACS the manufacturer, which of course is wrong. The manufacturer is Kapsch. ACS does back office and customer service work on contract to many E-ZPass toll authorities.

ACS says "rare occurence" but now rectified

ACS haven't yet answered questions but they gave us this statement:

"Our research shows this a rare occurrence impacting a small fraction of drivers who receive their transponders through the mail. The overwhelming majority of drivers receive their transponders in person at a walk-in facility. We have identified the issue and taken immediate steps to rectify it. We expect no further similar problems. Any transponder inadvertently charged, will have their account credited. We apologize for any inconvenience."

TOLLROADSnews 2012-03-22

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