The Florida Department of Transportation says it doesn’t know how many Florida drivers are opening their mailboxes to some big, backlogged SunPass bills this month — but they confirm it’s a lot.
During one seven-day period in January, FDOT spokesperson Ann Howard said the state sent out more than 417,000 toll-by-plate bills to drivers, their first bills in at least seven months following the failed SunPass system upgrade in June that was supposed to last just six days.
But those 417,000 invoices don’t even represent all of the drivers who are due to get backlogged bills.
Even though FDOT says it is now finally capable of sending accurate invoices, Howard says the department is choosing not to send them all immediately, so as not to overwhelm its customer service staff.
Hold times for calls to the SunPass customer service center, now operated by private corporation Conduent, exceeded four hours at one point in late summer, as frustrated drivers encountered unexpected toll bills, account errors and even compromised accounts.
FDOT finally provided the new toll-by-plate information after several months of unfulfilled public records requests. The department said it began mailing backlogged toll invoices to customers Jan. 3, and will likely continue to send out hundreds of thousands a week until the backlog is cleared.
Gov. Rick Scott launched an internal inspector general’s investigation into the SunPass debacle in August, but only after WTSP-TV pressed the governor several times on his lack of action. There has been no indication when — or if — that report will be finished and if it will be made public.
Neither former Gov. Scott not current Gov. Ron DeSantis have done much to hold Conduent — or any of the FDOT employees overseeing the project — accountable; the state halted Conduent’s payments on the SunPass contract, but continues to pay it on other deals.
Scott and DeSantis both have close ties to Brian Ballard, a top GOP fundraiser and lobbyist for Conduent. Public disclosures also reveal Scott has financial ties to the company, and the founder of Conduent, Darwin Deason, has donated to both Scott and DeSantis.
FDOT fined Conduent $800,000 on its $343 million contract, but has not taken the opportunity to issue stiffer fines.
A clause in Conduent’s FDOT contract suggests the company must pay drivers’ tolls that cannot be properly billed within four months. But the state has maintained drivers — not Conduent — should pay the tens of millions of dollars in old charges that are now just being invoiced.