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State lawmakers may look at cashless toll problems

Pushed by Governor Andrew Cuomo as a big improvement for motorists, it has been anything but for many, who report problems resulting in being erroneously billed hundreds and in some cases thousands of dollars.

BUFFALO, NY – We have recently reported about problems experienced by motorists passing through the new cashless toll system installed on the New York State Thruway near Grand Island.

We are not alone.

“My office has been inundated with calls from motorists who’ve been overcharged and mischarged,” New York State Assemblyman Sean Ryan (D-149th District) said.

Pushed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo as an improvement for motorists, it has been anything but for many, who report problems resulting in being billed hundreds, and in some cases thousands of dollars for what they expected to be a one or two dollar toll.

After it was announced cashless tolls would be coming to Grand Island, we asked Acting Thruway Executive Director Matthew Driscoll about the problems the agency was already having at the new Tappan Zee Bridge downstate, involving the same company they would use to operate the system here –Conduent State and Local solutions .

“I would agree that the customer service needed improvement, so I went and I personally visited the facility," Driscoll said last spring.

However, since the system made it’s entrance into the Western New York area, problems have continued unabated.

Ryan said the Thruway has been good about addressing the many customer complaints to his office.

”I've had constant conversations with the Thruway Authority. Just this morning, I got an email from the Thruway about certain constituent complaints where they said they would assist those affected in dealing with Conduent to make sure these things get rectified," Ryan said.

At the same time, however, Ryan feels it’s apparent the system is not working as well as it should be.

“We have to call the question, are we going to rip the contract away from Conduent? Or are they gonna clean up their act?"

But far from doing that, the Thruway Authority recently extended the contract, agreeing to pay its embattled cashless tolling contractor another $24.5 million to expand cashless tolling across the state.

If problems persist, Ryan would expect state lawmakers to take some action.

“We are part of their oversight,” said Ryan of the Thruway Authority, which operates independently of state government. “While we may not be able to directly tell them to do "x", there's other angles we have to put pressure on them, and we will put pressure with them."

Meanwhile, Conduent is under fire in several other states who use their systems including Florida, where more than two months of tolling outages have sparked two U.S. Senators to ask the Federal Commission to intervene.

In addition, billing troubles in Texas resulted in state agencies issuing refunds and running amnesty programs, and Californians started a class-action lawsuit against Conduent for tolling problems there.

“Everyone’s patience is going to be running short including the Thruway Authority,” Ryan said. "They didn’t plan on spending all this time on consumer complaints. They spent millions to buy what was supposed to be a turnkey system, which obviously isn’t working.”