Audits show inaccurate billing On Florida toll roads

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Audits show Florida’s electronic tolling equipment made a lot of mistakes in 2014.

On the Polk Parkway, error rates were as high as 2.5 percent in one lane. Another tolling lane in Leesburg topped out at a 5.9 percent error rate. And in Celebration, a 13 percent error rate in a tolling lane was the worst in the state.

“This is an error rate that is absolutely unacceptable and must be addressed, and we will address it,” St. Petersburg state senator Jeff Brandes said.

Twenty tolling lanes were audited during three days in May 2014. The lanes were audited for one hour each day. The state has 1,100 tolling lanes.

The field audits discovered overbilling and under billing. “We were told that that we had over 99 percent accuracy,” said Brandes, who chairs the Florida Senate Transportation Committee.

The 99 percent accuracy figures came from Florida Turnpike Enterprise executive director Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti at a January 2014 transportation committee hearing. But the field audits revealed many errors.

Brandes has not seen this audit.

“I need to know what corrective action has taken since then so if these are the 2014 numbers and now we’re well into 2015, what amount of information have they done to remediate these and what action have they taken?” he asked.

“We were not unaware that we had issues with detectors in some lanes,” Christa Deason, a spokesperson for the Florida Turnpike Enterprise, said. The detectors were replaced, and the Turnpike Enterprise is seeing much better accuracy, Deason said.

She called it a hardware problem. “Sometimes you have to replace your laptop. We had to replace detectors,” she added.

Deason also pointed out the state has a team that monitors, in real time, data from all 1,100 tolling lanes. “Not every lane is going to operate that accurately. When we see something behaving differently than it should be, we will address it,” she added.

“I think there are obviously inherent problems with technology sometimes, and our goal is to make sure that we continue to upgrade our technology so that we have the most accurate, most transparent, accountable system that we possibly can,” Brandes said.

The state is working now to reimburse those overbilled, Brandes said. “Most of them are using a SunPass account. We can credit those SunPass accounts,” he said.

John Northrup has had a running battle with the state over SunPass billings. Northrup drives a 5 axle rig.

In 2012 alone, SunPass billed him for 6, 7, 8 and even 9 axles a total of 171 times. Northrup became so fed up, he filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Transportation claiming the state uses defective equipment.

8 On Your Side profiled Northrup’s issues in 2013. “Obviously this is something that’s deeply concerning,” Brandes told us at the time. Now a year and a half later, the senator claims the state will take immediate action to address inaccuracies.

According to Deason, this should serve as an overall reminder that SunPass customers should look at their statements to look for billing issues. “Not every lane will operate 100 percent efficiently every day,” she said.

Copyright WFLA 2015.  All rights reserved.

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