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Overbilled tollway users to get $1.7 million back

A toll booth in Houston. The Texas Department of Transportation will be giving back about $1.7 million to tollway users who have been overbilled.
A toll booth in Houston. The Texas Department of Transportation will be giving back about $1.7 million to tollway users who have been overbilled. The Texas Tribune

Billing problems with the Texas Department of Transportation’s tolling system are bigger than the agency had realized, officials confirmed Tuesday, and the agency will be giving back about $1.7 million to tollway users who have been overbilled.

Agency Executive Director Joe Weber said the department is continuing to find TxTag accounts that were improperly billed after refunds to 31,000 accounts earlier this year. As the additional wrongly billed accounts are discovered, the agency is moving quickly to refund them, he said.

“$1.7 million is probably going to be refunded, somewhere in that vicinity,” said James Bass, the agency's chief financial officer.

The agency began sending refund checks this week to additional customers who had been wrongly charged late fees for toll charges for which they were not properly billed in the first place, Weber said. He said he did not have specific figures available for how many TxTag customers received the inaccurate bills.

Billing issues are just one of several problems that have emerged since this summer, when Xerox took over the department’s tolling operations under a five-year, $100 million contract. Texas drivers have encountered trouble accessing accounts online and long wait times on customer service calls.

“I know the transition has been rough and has inconvenienced many since we pulled the trigger on this back in July,” Weber said.

Both Weber and Xerox have blamed the billing problems on the company that Xerox was hired to replace, a firm that was later purchased by 3M.

“This is a very difficult transaction because the database that Xerox inherited was much more tainted than we originally anticipated,” Weber said Tuesday.

Last month, department officials told a state Senate committee that it had found about 30,000 Texas drivers with valid TxTag accounts who erroneously received bills in the mail for using the state’s toll roads, which are charged at a higher rate. Those accounts have since been credited, Bass said.

Troubled state contracts are expected to be a big part of the discussion as the Transportation Department addresses the House General Investigating Committee on Thursday, along with officials with the Health and Human Services Commission, the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Criminal Justice.

“We have to do a better job of negotiating and managing these contracts,” Weber said. “This is $100 million contract. We’re talking about $150 million of people’s revenue coming in through these toll roads.”

State lawmakers have expressed frustration with the department’s handling of the contract. Several bills have been filed aimed at restricting the agency’s tolling operations, with proposals ranging from restricting the agency's ability to assess late fines to requiring it to develop a plan to ultimately remove its tolls from all Texas roads.

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