Financial mistakes pile up on Florida toll roads

TAMPA, FL (WFLA) – Truck drivers like Bill VanEpps and John Northrup not only have to keep their eyes on the road, they must keep a careful watch on tolls for which they are electronically billed by the state of Florida, and so should you.

Vehicles are billed by the number of axles.

“My rig is a 5-axle rig I’ve been charged for as many as seven,” Bill said.

The Florida Turnpike Enterprise (FTE) released figures to 8 On Your Side showing over the past year, its electronic tolling equipment made mistakes on 175 commercial accounts, resulting in 24,549 axle miscalculations. According to FTE with 110,910,877 commercial toll transactions on Florida Department of Transportation roadways, that equals an error rate of .0002%. The total number of toll transactions for the 175 commercial accounts was not available.

“I’ve discovered weekly mistakes,” Bill said.

Chronic mistakes also resulted in monthly over-charges for John Northrup. Following our 8 On Your Side report profiling Northrup’s problems, State Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, called FTE executive director Diane Gutierrez Scaccetti to a January 2014 hearing for an explanation. Scaccetti told senators a unit of highly trained customer representatives does nothing but services fleet and commercial accounts, including making axle adjustments.

“We have not heard from anybody else since that news story broke back in the late fall,” she said.

They have, according to 8 On Your Side’s investigation. In addition to the miscalculations the Florida Turnpike Enterprise admits to, 8 On Your Side discovered thousands more during the last five years in FDOT’s own “Axle Miscalculation” reports.

Here is some of what our investigation discovered:

  • A Toyota Corolla charged for 5 axles
  • A Toyota Camry billed for 5 axles
  • A Ford 150 billed for 7 axles
  • A Honda Fit billed for 15 axles
  • A Toyota Tacoma charged for 15 axles

Between July and August 2011, the state charged one Camry owner for having three and four axles, 24 times.  During a 5-year period from 2009 to 2014, customers reported on at least 70 occasions that their 2 axle vehicles were billed for having as many as 15.  These numbers represent customers who check their monthly SunPass invoice and catch mistakes. Many customers have never glanced at their SunPass account. Toll plaza audits 8 On Your Side reviewed also show significant error rates. On the Polk Parkway error rates were as high as 2.5%, at the Leesburg toll plaza error rates came in at 5.9% and in Celebration the error rate was 13%.

John Northrup has filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Transportation, claiming it knowingly uses faulty equipment for electronic tolling. The state denies the charge.

 

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