SunPass saga: Year in Review

2020 will mark third year of customer service headaches.

As the SunPass Saga slogged into 2019, a change of leadership in the Governor’s Mansion gave the toll road tragedy a chance to reset.

Within months of taking the reins in January, new governor Ron DeSantis replaced the head of the Florida Department of Transportation, issued $10 million in fines to SunPass contractor Conduent, and announced the operation contract would eventually be cancelled and put out to new bidders.

But even as the state prepares to build hundreds of miles of new toll roads, Florida’s SunPass issues aren’t yet all resolved – more than 18 months after the fateful June 2018 day when FDOT flipped the switch on its new and “improved” electronic tolling system.

Sources tell Florida Politics that toll-by-plate transactions are still a mess, prompting the state to send out millions of dollars in free transponders to drivers, hoping they’ll register for regular SunPass accounts. And many questions remain about accountability following one of the state’s largest-ever IT and customer service failures.

The Good of 2019: Accountability

DeSantis did what his predecessor, Rick Scott, would not: assess maximum-allowable fines on Conduent for its negligence: approximately $10 million worth. Announcing the state would seek to part ways with Conduent was another big step (that probably should have been done sooner).

The Bad of 2019: Accountability

There still has been zero accountability for the two big (and politically-connected) engineering firms hired by FDOT to supervise Conduent. The Governor’s Inspector General recently confirmed Florida Politics’ reporting that identified specific mistakes that the Atkins and HNTB firms should have prevented.  They continue to do significant work for the state.

The Ugly OF 2019: Lost revenue

FDOT confirmed this fall more Florida Politics reporting, that the state would likely see at least $50 million in losses from billing errors and disruptions tied to the SunPass Saga. The state insists those aren’t taxpayer losses, but the odds are, that revenue will be eventually be made up by toll collections, meaning possible price hikes down the road.

The Good of 2019: FDOT efficiencies

It seems as though FDOT at least learned some lessons from all its mistakes, improving back-office billing processes as well as how it approaches SunPass customer service. Call wait times are down and the next contract, with whatever company replaces Conduent, will feature a number of safeguards and testing protocol that the Scott administration failed to include.

The Bad and Ugly of 2019: Transparency

When Florida Politics found out the Governor’s IG report was completed, it requested a copy. When none was provided, Florida Politics obtained the report through a source in Tallahassee. When the Governor’s Office was given advance notice of the Florida Politics exclusive prior to publishing, and an opportunity to respond, the communications staff tried to scoop the story by sending out the report (along with a rose-colored press release) to all state media. It didn’t work; Florida Politics broke the story anyway; and the state added another line to an embarrassing 18-month resume of cover-ups.

The Good of 2019: Account corrections

Another 17,020 customers saw problems with their SunPass accounts corrected in November alone, a sign that the state continues to address questionable charges with refunds.

The Bad of 2019: Account corrections

Another 17,020 customers saw problems with their SunPass accounts corrected in November alone! Those adjustments represent $136,000 in corrections, pushing the state up toward $1 million in errors/issues for the year – and that’s just accounts where drivers noticed problems.  Since the SunPass customer agreement puts the owness for catching mistakes on drivers, it’s likely the majority of account errors are never caught.

The Ugly of 2019: Interoperability

Even though federal law requires FDOT to accept toll transponders from all states, and give SunPass transponders the ability to work on all toll roads nationwide…the agency has ignored the mandate. One can only hope the agency’s new year’s resolutions include interoperability.

Noah Pransky

Noah Pransky is a multiple award-winning investigative reporter, most recently with the CBS affiliate in Tampa. He’s uncovered major stories such as uncovering backroom deals in the Tampa Bay Rays stadium and other political investigations. Pransky also ran a blog called Shadow of the Stadium, giving readers a deep dive into the details of potential financial deals and other happenings involving the Tampa Bay- area sports business.


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