Sen. Bill Nelson calls for FTC to investigate SunPass operator

Jul 31, 2018 \\ Malena Carollo, Tampa Bay Times

Sen. Bill Nelson called Monday for the Federal Trade Commission to look into SunPass operator Conduent State & Local Solutions, admonishing the Florida Department of Transportation for not doing so already.

In a letter Monday followed by a news conference, Nelson and Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., urged the federal agency to investigate the Xerox spinoff for unfair and deceptive trade practices.

"Conduent's pattern of mismanaging cashless toll systems is deeply troubling and warrants further scrutiny," the letter reads. "If drivers are being hurt financially, the FTC should hold the company accountable and prevent it from doing further harm."

The New Jersey firm is currently mired in 170 million unprocessed SunPass charges after it stopped processing them June 1. The FDOT said it would stop paying Conduent until the issues were fixed, but it paid the firm $265,000 the following day.

While Nelson urged action on the federal level for the issue, the FDOT, he said at the news conference, should be the one to "crack down" on Conduent.

"It shouldn't take the FTC," he said. "The state of Florida should do this."

Conduent has contracted with the state since 2015. At least one agency — the Central Florida Expressway Authority — backed out of a deal with the company after learning of its history with other states.

Before its Florida fiasco, Conduent had similar issues in a number of states — Texas, California, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Maryland — averaging two years to get states' toll systems back on track.

In one case, drivers in Texas were erroneously charged as much as $41,000 in tolls for the Conduent-run TxTag system, which led to a $200,000 fine for the company and an April 2015 ethics investigation.

As of Monday, Nelson said he was not aware of any Florida residents being overcharged for SunPass fees. If some were, Nelson said, one of the remedies the FTC could bring would be possible reimbursement.

Should the FTC find that Conduent runs up against unfair and deceptive trade practices, the agency could also issue a fine.

"I want some redress for the consumers' problems," Nelson said. "They shouldn't suddenly have a big bill."

Many SunPass customers weren't even able to see their bills for a period. More than a month after the issue began, customers weren't being charged for their SunPass transactions. And widespread issues with the toll operator's website, phone lines and app left customers with little recourse.

SunPass' customer service avenues were up and running again as of late last week, though some customers still reported difficulty getting through to agents.

One petition circulating online called "Don't charge SunPass users when your system is down" had 3,746 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

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