Two Democratic state lawmakers from the Hudson Valley are calling on the Thruway Authority to cancel its contract extension with the company that operates New York’s cashless tolling system. They say the company’s operation at the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge has resulted in residents being charged unreasonable penalties and fines.
State Senator David Carlucci wants the contract canceled, rewritten in the best interest of taxpayers, and put out to bid.
“And I would say we would let Conduent apply as well. But we’ve got to have a better process in place. We’ve got to be able to hold Conduent accountable. They’ve talked about being fined about $470,000. That’s a drop in the bucket when you talk about a $200 million contract. We paid Conduent over $200 million over the past 10 years, and I feel that Conduent has not had an incentive to innovate their technology or their customer service,” says Carlucci. “When cashless tolls turned out to be a disaster for thousands of people, my office was the customer service arm for E-ZPass.”
He says the three-year contract extension that began in October 2017 is for about $72 million, following the 10-year contract. Assemblyman Tom Abinanti joins Carlucci in the call for rescinding the contract.
“At a time when the state is considering making cashless tolling statewide, we need an operator that is concerned about the drivers and not just about its bottom line. Conduent gets paid some $20 million a year through a contract that we can’t access,” Abinanti says. “We’ve asked for a copy of the contract and we’ve gotten a 1,500 page document with some 500 pages redacted so that we can’t read the important details.”
Details, he says, like about performance standards. Carlucci says he had received the contract through a Freedom of Information Act request.
A Conduent spokesman referred a request for comment to the Thruway Authority. In an emailed statement, a Thruway Authority spokesman says, “Quality customer service for motorists is a high priority, which is why the Authority has already developed a series of improvements Conduent is implementing for customers using Tolls By Mail and E-ZPass. Under the existing contract, Conduent has been -- and will continue to be -- penalized financially each and every time they underperform. We appreciate the legislators’ efforts, and we will continue to press Conduent to deliver the highest level of service to our customers.” Again, Abinanti.
“There are a lot of motorists who are still finding that the first bill they get in the mail is a penalty from Conduent rather than the original charge for crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge,” Abinanti says. “Conduent still hasn’t fixed that system, hasn’t made it easier for people to pay their tolls or even to find out what they are.”
Earlier this year, the Thruway Authority implemented a five-week Amnesty Program that it says resolved more than 281,000 cashless tolling violations, resulting in more than $1.4 million in unpaid tolls being collected from Tolls By Mail customers at the Mario Cuomo Bridge/Tappan Zee Bridge. And effective May 15, the Thruway Authority announced that toll violation fees at the Mario Cuomo Bridge would be reduced from $100 to $50 per trip. Carlucci says the improvements are a step in the right direction but not enough. And he urges New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign his Toll Payer Protection Act, which contains the following:
“I mean, things that we probably shouldn’t legislate. The agency should be doing them already but they haven’t. We’re talking about simple things like allowing for people to sign up for text alerts and email alerts to get their bills, to have an itemized bill, to have a time frame when people have to be notified that they’ve accrued a bill and a fine, and also to require the MTA to offer an amnesty program as well like the Thruway Authority did,” Carlucci says. “The Toll Payer Protection Act is something that came out of this debacle. That’s one thing, but I think an easy place to start is by canceling the contract with Conduent.”
Carlucci and Abinanti say it was Conduent’s mismanagement that led to the amnesty program. Here’s Abinanti.
“When we look at Conduent’s track record in other states, we have grave cause for concern,” says Abinanti. “It appears that Florida’s system was down for some 30 days. Maryland has decided not to renew its contract with Conduent and other are looking carefully at what conduct Conduent has had.”
Thruway Authority Acting Executive Director Matthew Driscoll had released a six-point plan in January to increase educational outreach about cashless tolling billing at the bridge, aiming to improve customer service by educating more motorists about how to pay bills on time and avoid fees, violations and possible registration suspension. The Thruway Authority since has installed new roadway signage to outline Tolls By Mail payment options and how to avoid late fees and penalties. And it has revised wording on Tolls By Mail bills and envelopes.
Currently, cashless tolling is available only on the Mario Cuomo and Grand Island Bridges in Erie County. In June, Governor Cuomo announced cashless tolling will begin on the Thruway Authority's remaining fixed toll barriers in the lower Hudson Valley by the end of 2018.