BALTIMORE — Drivers calling Maryland E-ZPass can expect to wait around 90 minutes to speak with a customer service representative.
The Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) attributed the delays to staffing shortages and high call volumes.
When MDTA switched to a new customer service vendor in April, there were 160 call center agents. Staffing levels then fell to 60 agents by August.
TransCore, the vendor awarded a $272 million contract to provide electronic toll collection customer service, launched an additional call center location in New Jersey to provide more staffing, but then lost 35 agents in October.
Currently, there are 82 agents tasked with answering on average 15,115 calls per day.
MDTA anticipates TransCore will bring on an additional 35 call service representatives through a third-party call center provider by early December.
Call wait times exceed several hours
Recently, WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii called E-ZPass and was told the call wait time would be 138.25 minutes.
Russell Beckman sent Sofastaii a screenshot of his 2.5 hour call just so a representative could create a case number.
“I should be getting a call back but who knows when. Last time, I waited a few months,” Beckman said.
Beckman doesn’t even live in Maryland. He’s in Wisconsin, and he’s been trying to dispute toll violations not committed by him.
“My license plate, which has a been stolen is on a 1999 Toyota Camry with over 200,000 miles on it,” said Beckman. “If you look at the pictures, it's obviously a newer Lexus.”
The driver’s back plate is from Florida, but the front plate is the same as Beckman’s.
“I have this very unique Wisconsin personalized license plate which is 'GO PAK GO.' I'm obviously a Packer fan,” said Beckman.
And the driver of the Lexus with the toll violations may be to, but their team enthusiasm is creating a headache for Beckman as he continues to receive bills.
“This is hundreds of dollars. This person traveled all up and down the East Coast,” said Beckman. “I think there was Virginia, Massachusetts, the Port Authority of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, that's a lot of states to remember and, eventually, I got billed from Florida, and, of course, Maryland.”
Most states waived the fines. In Maryland, it hasn’t been as easy.
“It’s just been an absolute consumer nightmare to deal with the Maryland toll authority,” said Beckman.
With our help, the MDTA cleared him of responsibility and added his car to the “plate dispute list,” but it doesn't address the customer service issue.
“Too bad for me, but too bad for the citizens of Maryland, they deserve better,” Beckman lamented.
MDTA hired new vendor to improve customer service
In March, the MDTA said current call wait times were around 30 minutes, one hour during peak times, and that would improve when they switched to a new vendor in the second quarter.
However, wait times have worsened to an average of 90 minutes.
The state awarded a $272 million contract to TransCore in 2018 with an implementation date of June 2020.
The transition didn't happen until April 29, 2021.
An MDTA spokesperson said:
“This date reflected an aggressive and ambitious schedule that exceeded the industry average when retaining the same vendor, let alone transitioning to two new vendors. The schedule proved to be unattainable, resulting in the postponement of the Go-Live transition date.”
The agency also encountered “software and hardware migration issues due to the age (15 years) of the previous legacy system, the need to make system customizations to help improve the customer experience, the addition of new technologies, and complying with Maryland’s laws.”
In addition to the staffing shortages, MDTA said call volume increased by 3,000 calls a day in the last few months.
To help alleviate call wait time concerns, they’ve expanded customer service website and call center features including adding a web chat feature on DriveEzMD.com, adding a callback feature during business hours, and expanding weekday hours plus Saturday hours including at their in-person Customer Service Centers.
The call back feature is available between the hours of 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Friday and Saturdays between 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.
“Unfortunately, as we continue processing the tolling backlog, we will continue to experience high call and web chat volumes, so wait times may vary and could be extensive,” an MDTA spokesperson added.
And to avoid any service disruptions during the delayed transition, in January, MDTA received approval for a not-to-exceed sum of $38,000,000 to extend the contract with the previous vendor.
MDTA said not all of these funds will be used and there was never any overlap of the same services from those two vendors.
MDTA audit shows some drivers were overbilled
A toll processing backlog is a major driver of the recent call volumes. MDTA paused mailing notices for 7 months during the pandemic.
Drivers may also be calling to dispute their bills after a recent audit found drivers were overbilled tens of thousands of dollars.
This happened while the state was transitioning to a new tolling system.
According to the audit issued in September, MDTA became aware of issues with its new system implementation in December of 2019, including customers being charged for additional axles.
Around 7,700 customers were overbilled more than $84,000.
MDTA said they're working to correct those customers accounts.
Auditors also found instances of customers being billed twice and questioned whether MDTA fully investigated the scope of the issue.
MDTA disputed that finding and said the errors were extremely limited.
State legislators plan to hold a hearing next Wednesday, December 1 to determine whether the state agency has fully addressed the problems identified in the audit.