AUSTIN -- A KVUE Defenders investigation has uncovered thousands of drivers incorrectly charged on toll roads operated by the Texas Department of Transportation over the past several years.
The issues involve tolls only operated by TxDOT, which include parts of Loop 1, State Highway 45, State Highway 130, and SH 45 SE.
According to internal agency records obtained by KVUE, TxDOT employees logged 2,337 entries identifying problems with cameras misreading vehicle information and billing issues over the past six years. Issues range from double charges and incorrect rates to misreading the number of axles on vehicles.
"That's crazy. I will be watching it a whole lot more online too," said Jacque Frias who uses SH 45.
In October TxDOT double charged her an extra $1.57.
"That dollar can add up, especially if you don't catch it and they start charging you extra fees," said Frias.
The same agency records show TxDOT identifying computer glitches impacting some transactions. One entry logged by an agency employee reads, "excessive video billing."
TxDOT says some of the issues identified in the report we obtained also show tolls sometimes undercharge drivers. The agency did not provide how much money was incorrectly charged or how much was reimbursed to drivers.
“It's fraud, plain and simple," said Denise Zuniga.
Earlier this year TxDOT charged her $20 in tolls for a vehicle she doesn't even own. It took a call from the KVUE Defenders to fix it.
"If they're doing this to me, how many other people have they done this too?" contends Zuniga.
In October TxDOT released the names of the top 25 toll violators with the most unpaid charges to shame them into paying.
"It's not fair that people have been paying their tolls and these people have been getting away with it," explained TxDOT spokesperson Veronica Beyer in an interview with KVUE on Oct. 16, 2013.
While the agency had no problem going on camera to out toll debtors, it denied our requests for an interview to discuss problems with the same tolls. So the KVUE Defenders drove four hours to Tyler, Texas to attend the agency's commission meeting last week. After the meeting, TxDOT executive director Phil Wilson granted us an interview.
While unable to provide specific explanations on each issue, Wilson said the problems KVUE identified involve a very small percent of all toll transactions.
“When you have 400,000 transactions a day, you’re going to have a small margin of error that takes place naturally. At the same time, we want to do the very best we can for our customers,” said Wilson.
The TxDOT chief says some of those issues involve human error, technology, credit cards and drivers who move without updating their information with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Wilson says the agency just signed a $100 million dollar contract with Xerox to manage the tolls in the spring. He hopes the change will reduce overcharges.
“I think with a new vendor and a renewed focus on customer surveys and satisfaction, hopefully we’ll get that 2,000 down to a much better place for everyone involved,” said Wilson.
If you think you were incorrectly charged by TxDOT:
The data contained in this PDF involves two different spreadsheets. The spreadsheets come from a helpdesk computer program which allows TxDOT employees to log issues involving its toll operations and billing.
Scroll through the spreadsheet to search for the date associated with the day you believe you were incorrectly charge.
If you find an entry that identifies an issue associated with a toll charge, write down the information in that entry and then forward it to TxDOT to request an explanation.
Not all entries include incorrect charges. Entries that likely involve billing issues include these key words in the subject field: “double charges,” “incorrect toll rates,” “extra charges,” “incorrect axle variances,” “duplicate” and “misclass.”
We’ve posted all of the entries because TxDOT could not provide explanations for every log. So just because an entry doesn’t contain one of the keywords, doesn’t mean that it did not involve a billing issue.