LACKAWANNA, N.Y. — 2 On Your Side is continuing to follow up on the issues regarding a significant problem with electronic tolling for the Thruway here in Western New York. Now we have more information on the scope of that problem.
It has ranged from significant toll overcharges on malfunctioning E-ZPass electronic readers affecting motorists and trucking companies to customer service headaches for those trying to resolve their E-ZPass disputes and sometimes facing tacked on extra fees.
For example Andrew says he has been an E-Z Pass customer for 14 years and has never really had a problem until recently which he tried to settle. He told 2 On Your Side "The phone rings and rings, you get a busy signal - it hangs up on you. Some people that may not check it as often as me, they might be getting burned and they have no idea that New York state is robbing - you know highway robbery - no pun intended."
In many cases normal E-ZPass tolls of 13 to 15 cents swelled to billed amounts of nearly four dollars as actual license plates were recorded instead of the E-ZPass transponder tags.
As the Thruway admitted after our inquiries, this happened in April at Exit 55 which is the site of the old Lackawanna toll barrier.
After we reported on the problem, hundreds of viewers responded to us with their stories. Like Patrice who told us " Usually that 25 dollars lasts me for three weeks and all of sudden I'm like - oh my gosh -my tolls are - 50 dollars a week. What is going on? "
We tried repeatedly to find out just how many motorists were affected. Then finally on Wednesday the Thruway Authority told us in this quote "isolated incident" 59,000 E-ZPass user accounts were misread.
For perspective, that's 10,000 more people than the city population of Niagara Falls.
According to the Thruway they received proper credits to their accounts.
But Andrew told us he's not sure if he got a refund.. "I finally got a hold of somebody and they said I had to call back in 48 hours to see if it got adjusted in the system but upon calling back 48 hours later I still can't get anybody to pick up."
We have repeatedly asked for an interview with Thruway Executive Director Matthew Driscoll to discuss the problems but the state authority's communications staff said he would not be available.
Of course this isn't the first time there have been customer billing issues for E-ZPass. Back in 2018 with complaints at the Grand Island Bridges, then State Assemblymember Sean Ryan said "New York state bought a cashless toll system from this vendor called Conduent - guess what ? it's not working."
Now three years later Senator Ryan has written a new letter to the Thruway Authority noting new issues for constituents and seeking information. He has a concern that quote "Given the recent instances of faulty electronic readers, I fear we may be seeing a repeat of the situation from 2018."
We're told Senator Ryan was not available for an interview until he gets a response. .
As we reported previously, three years ago Conduent had cashless tolling problems in other states too. In Florida, refunds and a month of no tolls was declared due to its troubled Sun Pass system.
And problems also happened three years ago on the Governor Mario Cuomo bridge downstate which was known back then as the Tappan Zee Bridge.. That prompted some lawmakers from Westchester County to try to do something. Assemblymember Thomas Abinanti says "The Tollpayer Protection Act covered a whole series of issues that we found that drivers were confronting."
The measure would have provided some consumer protection to assist with billing disputes and other issues like privacy. It passed the State Assembly and Senate in 2018 and 2019 but was vetoed by Governor Cuomo both times.
And just last month a new eight-year $185 Million dollar contact with Conduent was approved by the Thruway Authority to again run the state's E-ZPass program.
2 On Your Side asked Abinanti "In essence they just keep doing business with them - what do you think of that? He replied "Consumer protection is not a hallmark of the Cuomo Administration. Consumer protection is not a hallmark of the Thruway Authority."
We've received no response from the Governor's office for this story.
We asked Assemblymember Abinanti whether anyone should be concerned by the Thruway's connection and Conduent's ongoing presence. Abinanti:replied "Yeah - but they're claiming that their regulations allow them to do that. So now you need a challenge - a legal challenge and the Attorney General represents the Thruway Authority."
Previously two US Senators called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the firm and its use by Florida's state turnpike system.
The Authority says it has now split up some EZ Pass duties with a new firm called Faneiul hired for five years at $58 Million dollars. A spokesman also says they have pushed Conduent to improve its call service operations which had staffing shortages.
Overall the Thruway Authority's ongoing advice is to contact E-ZPass.
- Call the E-ZPass NY Customer Service Center at 1-800-333-8655 (press 9 to speak with a representative.) Wait times are lower during non-peak hours, especially Saturday 8 a.m. – Noon.
- Fill out the form located at https://www.thruway.ny.gov/about/contact/index.html to have a representative contact them.
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org (provide contact information and account/bill numbers)
- Message us on social media (Twitter and Facebook messages are always open)
A Conduent spokesman emailed a statement in response which reads in part "We are committed to ensuring New York E-ZPass customers have a satisfying experience, and we are proud of how our customer service teams have responded over the past year to serve our client needs amid the pandemic-related challenges, which have impacted call centers nationwide. Although a contributing factor in this particular situation stems from circumstances caused by a third-party vendor, we are continuing to work closely with NYSTA to meet staffing needs and address customer requests as quickly as possible."
When it comes to billing disputes, there is also now a listing on the Thruway Authority's website for the Office of Tollpayer Advocate. It's supposed to help resolve tolling problems with EZ Pass or Tolls by Mail. That was news to Assemblymember Abinanti as he stated "I am unaware of any advocate and I don't remember ever seeing anything in the budget appropriating money."
State Senator George Borello is another Western New York lawmaker who says he tried to help a constituent with EZ pass issues but hit an often heard roadblock. "We absolutely should look into this. But this whole Authority system is just so - so shrouded in secrecy and it's difficult...as legislators for us to get any information."
So where does the public go from here with any toll issues? Abinanti says "When they have a problem to alert their Assemblymember and their Senator. And to make a lot of noise for the Thruway Authority and the Governor's office. There needs to be a public outcry. The Governor has said he's running for re-election next year. This could become an election year issue and it seems that's the only way this Governor listens."
We cannot solve every issue with E-Z Pass. But we want you to let us know if you were affected by this particular glitch in the system and can't get through to customer service. And make sure to check your E-Z Pass account on-line or if you get a mailed statement - check for overcharges that may have your license plate listed. O
Our Channel 2 Tip Line text number is 716-849 - 2220 or you can contact us at "tipline at wgrz.com."