Law­mak­ers want tough stance on SunPass

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Local - By Jim Turner News Ser­vice of Florida

State law­mak­ers called Tues­day for trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials to main­tain a hard fi­nan­cial line against a con­trac­tor blamed for a trou­bled project last sum­mer to up­grade the SunPass sys­tem, as fi­nal toll in­voices from a back­log go out to mo­torists this week.

Mem­bers of the Se­nate In­fras­truc­ture and Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee im­plored the state Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion to hold Con­duent State & Lo­cal So­lu­tions ac­count­able for its im­ple­men­ta­tion of the SunPass Cen­tral­ized Cus­tomer Ser­vice Sys­tem.

“It’s not just the mon­e­tary dam­ages that take place,” said Com­mit­tee Chair­man Tom Lee, RThono­to­sassa. “We are in a time when there is an un­prece­dented level of dis­trust in gov­ern­ment and its abil­ity to fill a ba­sic pot­hole. And these kinds of things just give rise to that frus­tra­tion and con­cern. They give a black eye to the depart­ment, a black eye to mem­bers of the Se­nate.”

While Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion District 4 Sec­re­tary Gerry O'Reilly told the com­mit­tee the toll-col­lec­tion sys­tem is “climb­ing in the right direc­tion,”

Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, ques­tioned why Con­duent, which has other con­tracts with the state, con­tin­ues to han­dle the SunPass sys­tem.

“We picked a com­pany that was un­qual­i­fied to do the work,” Cruz said. “Isn’t it time that we look for an­other ven­dor if Con­duent is un­able to re­solve these is­sues in a timely fash­ion?”

But Sen. Keith Perry, RGainesville, called it pre­ma­ture to seek the end of a con­tract be­fore all the in­for­ma­tion is known.

“I’m not say­ing we shouldn’t look into it more, but I think if DOT came to us and said we need to can­cel the con­tract and we need to get a new one, then we’d look at that,” Perry said.

Sen. Ed Hooper, RClear­wa­ter, sug­gested the state con­sider stronger lan­guage in fu­ture con­tracts.

“Maybe we ought to think about some se­vere lan­guage that, should this oc­cur again, we don’t have to talk about should we can­cel a con­tract and get into a le­gal quag­mire that takes years to re­solve,” Hooper said.

O’Reilly said the com­pany has al­ready been fined

$780,000, which in­cludes fail­ing to meet an ini­tial March dead­line to im­ple­ment the up­grades. Also, the com­pany con­tin­ues to face the prospect of up to

25 per­cent in fines against

32 as­pects of the over­all

$343 mil­lion con­tract, which in­cludes run­ning the sys­tem for the next three years and nine months.

Lee said of­fi­cials from Con­duent were in­vited to at­tend the com­mit­tee meet­ing.

The work on the SunPass sys­tem were sup­posed to last about a week and be com­pleted June 11. In­stead, the sys­tem was over­whelmed by the vol­ume as it went live, and parts of the sys­tem were down for a month, with se­ri­ous is­sues lin­ger­ing into Au­gust in­volv­ing over­charges, poor web­site per­for­mance and un­ac­cept­able wait time at a cus­tomer call cen­ter.

“It no way im­pacted any­body’s abil­ity to use the toll fa­cil­i­ties,” O’Reilly said. “But it did im­pact the abil­ity to charge them ef­fi­ciently for tolls.”

About 1.2 bil­lion in­voices have been sent out since the changes were made in June, with the fi­nal 4.4 mil­lion from the back­log pe­riod go­ing out this week, O'Reilly told the com­mit­tee.

“At the lat­est, they’ll re­ceive them next week and the week af­ter,” O’Reilly said.

Those in­voices are pri­mar­ily go­ing to mo­torists who don’t have SunPass transpon­ders but are billed through the toll-by-plate sys­tem.

The state lifted the $2.50 ad­min­is­tra­tive fees on those in­voiced charges and is al­low­ing peo­ple to pay the charges in in­stall­ments, O’Reilly said.

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