RALEIGH — It wasn’t their fault, after all, Tony Tata says.
More than 800 drivers are receiving toll-road refunds and profuse apologies from the state Department of Transportation – by telephone and by mail – because they were double-billed for trips on the Triangle Expressway.
“It was completely avoidable,” Tata, the state transportation secretary, said Thursday. “It’s our fault. And we are fixing the problem, and your account is going to be credited. So we accept full responsibility for this.”
The billing errors started Jan. 3, when the state Turnpike Authority began accepting electronic toll payments from drivers with E-ZPass transponders. Drivers who also had N.C. Quick Pass transponders in their cars were charged twice, through the separate debit accounts tied to each transponder.
Last week, N.C. Turnpike Authority and E-ZPass officials blamed their customers for the double-billing.
They said drivers could have avoided the problem by complying with the fine-print terms and conditions of their contracts, which admonish toll-road drivers not to travel with more than one transponder in the car.
Speaking Thursday at a state Board of Transportation meeting, Tata emphatically reversed that message.
To help prevent more billing errors, he said, DOT will give its toll-road customers “no-read” bags for storing the second transponder in the car. The bags block toll-road scanners from reading the radio-frequency identification chip on the transponder.
“We’re also working on a software fix so that even if you do have both in there, it only reads one,” Tata said.
“And beginning this morning, we have a customer service team calling every single individual for whom we have a phone number. So we’re calling and we’re sending out letters apologizing.”
Jerry L. Canterbury of Holly Springs, one of those double-billed drivers, was surprised Thursday morning to receive “an out-of-the-blue call from a live person” at the Turnpike Authority.
“She sincerely apologized on behalf of Quick Pass,” Canterbury, 49, said by email.
Also Thursday, Tata promised customer service improvements for the Division of Motor Vehicles. He introduced James Forte, the new DMV commissioner, to board members.
“He knows the governor has set DMV improvements as a priority, and he is working hard to develop a comprehensive plan to improve DMV,” Tata said. “He’s got several ideas that are gonna be put into action within the next few weeks. To include Saturday hours and flex hours – 7 to 6 p.m. – and bring more retail-oriented focus to DMV.”
Tata said he is still reviewing a Jan. 17 opinion from the state attorney general’s office recommending that DMV resume issuing licenses to young illegal immigrants participating in a federal program that grants them work permits and postpones their deportation for two years.