Glitch leads to toll tag customers getting bills at higher rates

Tens of thousands of toll tag holders throughout Texas have gotten pay-by-mail bills in recent weeks, rather than having the tolls subtracted from their tag accounts at lower rates, officials said Wednesday.

The glitch, which grew out of an attempt by toll agencies statewide to make Texas electronic toll tags usable in Kansas and Oklahoma, has clogged customer phone lines at TxTag and the offices that handle toll payments for agencies other than TxDOT, officials said.

The bad bills began in about mid-May when the switch to a new “interoperability” program began, officials said. It has affected toll transactions on a sporadic basis, rather than hitting all of them.

This has meant that toll tag customers, used to simply having toll charges subtracted from their existing balance in a toll account, in some cases instead have received bills in the mail charging what is typically a 33 percent premium over a toll tag rate, plus administrative charges. The unexpected billings in many cases led to customers calling in or visiting toll agency billing locations, such as the TxTag office on North MoPac Boulevard.

It is not clear how many of those who received the inflated bills simply paid them.

It was also not immediately known Wednesday if the underlying problem has been resolved, which reportedly involves a “translator” program that the Harris County Toll Road Authority was using in the transition to marrying up Texas electronic tags with systems in Oklahoma and Kansas.

The Texas Department of Transportation and its TxTag operation apparently piggy-backed on that Harris County translator program, meaning that the problem affected transactions involving both TxTags and Harris County’s EZ Tags. It also caught some tolls for people using the Dallas-Fort Worth area’s Tolltag while driving on TxDOT or Harris County tollways.

Tim Reilly, director of operations for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which operates the 183-A, U.S. 290 East and Texas 71 tollways, said his agency caught the problem earlier this month after about 1.6 million toll transactions had been affected. However, just 550,000 of those higher-priced tolls had gone out in about 100,000 bills.

Billing on the other 1 million or so Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority transactions did not occur.

“We stopped the process of anything moving once we realized there was an issue,” Reilly said. If anyone with a valid electronic toll tag account paid the inflated bills, Reilly said, the toll surcharge and related fees will be refunded to their tag account.

The agency Wednesday posted a notice on its website saying “we sincerely apologize for the inconvenience. We are currently experiencing some delays in processing tag transactions from other tolling agencies. This may have caused some customers with accounts in good standing to receive a Pay By Mail toll bill. We are working with other tolling agencies to resolve payment. We will send you a letter confirming the account resolution.”

The TxTag web page has a similar message, noting longer than normal call wait times, but nonetheless recommending that people with what appear to be illegitimate bills call the agency that issued them an electronic toll tag.

“Your home tag agency will file a dispute on your behalf to resolve these bill issues with the other agencies,” the message says.

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