TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Drivers who fail to pay tolls they incurred driving on SunPass roads from June 1 and beyond will be subject to penalties and fees once again, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.
Officials with the agency confirm that those penalties and fines will apply only to the new tolls, not to any backlogged or carryover tolls from before June 1, which means any past tolls are still under a grace period -- at least for now.
The news comes one year after an expected weeklong computer system upgrade went horribly wrong. The meltdown resulted in two and a half months of backlogged tolls that then led to a customer service nightmare for drivers and customers hit with a wave of bills all at once.
In August, SunPass customers were hit with a deluge of bills and auto-drafts that took many by surprise as the agency tried to catch up on the 10 weeks of backlogged tolls owed in a matter of weeks.
In January, Toll-By-Plate customers were hit with seven months' worth of tolls all at once.
Some customers contacted News 6 after they discovered errors and unexplained charges on their bills, and many complained about wait times of more than two hours to talk with someone on the phone.
Last summer, the Central Florida Expressway Authority revealed there were more than 2 million SunPass tolls that had the wrong date and time stamps on them.
All of that combined created a public relations nightmare for FDOT, the state agency that oversees SunPass. It also resulted in many customers either dropping the auto-pay function on their accounts or canceling their SunPass accounts.
The Florida Department of Transportation has already said it has adjusted thousands of toll charges, fined the state contractor for the problems and held back charges to double check for duplicate or questionable tolls. There is also an investigation by Florida’s chief inspector into the matter.
On March 29, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the continued suspension of fees and penalties for SunPass and Toll-By-Plate customers. At the time, FDOT confirmed the agency would continue to suspend penalties and fees until June 1.
On that date, Secretary of Transportation Kevin Thibault also announced the agency would assess the maximum performance penalties allowed under the state contract against Conduent, the state contractor in charge of the botched upgrade, for all of the operational and performance deficiencies.
There are three and a half years left on the current $343 million contract between FDOT and Conduent. In March, it was announced that Conduent had been fined $4.6 million to date, and the state was not paying on the contract until all issues were fixed. A check on the contract shows FDOT has stayed true to its word.
[CHECK YOUR ACCOUNT: Here’s how to find out if you have been double-billed by SunPass]
In February, Gerry O'Reilly, the District 4 Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation, gave a presentation and update on the SunPass Centralized Customer Service System to members of the Florida Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee. During the Feb. 5 hearing, O'Reilly confirmed Conduent was not getting paid and had not submitted any invoices related to the upgrade. He confirmed when Conduent did submit any invoices, the contractor could be hit with a 25% deduction, based on how the contractor performed against built-in performance and operational measures in place.
On Monday, the Florida Department of Transportation announced it has imposed the maximum penalty during the affected period, including an additional $3.7 million in performance penalties, bringing the total to approximately $8.3 million to date.
“We have imposed the maximum penalty allowable under the vendor contract. This is part of the Department’s ongoing commitment to hold Conduent accountable and ensure customers receive the level of service they deserve. Gov. Ron DeSantis directed me to address this issue as we ensure solid customer service for our citizens,” Thibault said. “Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise continues to work with the vendor as we return to the high level of customer service that SunPass has provided its customers for the past 20 years.”
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