TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida's top transportation official is confident that, despite a rocky start, the contractor in charge of the SunPass toll system is getting things back on the right track.
Yet state Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault said the agency will keep withholding a quarter of payments to Conduent State and Local Solutions until the firm lives up to its contract.
"It’s going to be month by month and every invoice we take a look at it and see if they’re meeting performance expectations," Thibault told a reporter on Friday.
Even though it was hired by FDOT to upgrade SunPass for hundreds of millions of dollars, Conduent’s rollout of the revamped system has been marked by controversy and criticism since last year.
The toll system was swamped out of the gate, causing parts of it to shut down and fueling complaints about billing errors, unreliability and poor customer service. Since then, the state has imposed $8.3 million in fines and ordered the firm to staff up as needed to keep up with demand.
In response, Gov. Ron DeSantis called for the agency to waive late fees through June 1.
Still unclear is how the new billing system’s launch was botched so badly. Thibault said he has to wait until the Inspector General’s Office wraps up its ongoing investigation into the problem before he can address what went wrong and identify potential areas for improvement.
On Friday, he indicated the company has made progress getting billing issues and customer service delays under control and in line with its contractual obligations. But there’s still a ways to go.
"Some of the metrics that they have, even though the customer response has been a lot better than it has been, it’s still not always up to the metrics," Thibault said.
Under the contract’s terms, the state can hold onto up to 25 percent of its payments while the company remains out of compliance. There’s no limit on how long the state can keep applying pressure.
"Mainly, we’re trying to get them so they can get a call and answer the call within a minute," he said. "So if someone’s calling, they’re not on hold less than a minute. In many cases, the average is between a minute and five minutes, so we’re trying to drive down to that lower number."
For now, Thibault encouraged Floridians to continue using SunPass and working with the state to resolve any issues they might have encountered.
"All we’re asking is for you to pay the tolls (for) the system that you used, and let’s work with you to try and get that to happen."