Getting refunds for bad E-ZPass charges is no picnic, some RI drivers find
One E-ZPass customer racked up $17 of truck toll charges on his passenger vehicle across Rhode Island nine months ago but didn’t know it.
Another has a New York transponder and isn’t sure how to contest charges from truck toll gantries in Rhode Island.
A third left messages with state officials trying to get help, but never heard back.
They are among the dozen people who contacted The Hummel Report, after an investigation published in The Providence Sunday Journal showed that nearly 1,800 passenger vehicles were incorrectly billed for passing under gantries designed to charge trucks travelling through Rhode Island.
Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti Jr. said Thursday that in response to our investigation, his department is working with the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority to refund customers who were billed incorrectly.
“It’s bizarre, I don’t know what to make of it,” said Zach Pfeiffer, of Cranston. He provided The Hummel Report a spreadsheet that showed $17 worth of tolls meant for trucks on gantries along Route 295 and Route 6 between March 4 and April 6.
He hasn’t had an incorrect charge since.
“Something went wrong in March,” Pfeiffer said. “ I can’t say we were going anywhere particularly far. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. If anything, we were more at home that month with COVID.”
Pfeiffer said he submitted a dispute form to the Turnpike and Bridge Authority, but got no response. He tried calling, but was on hold for 20 minutes and hung up.
Turnpike and Bridge Authority Executive Director Lori Silveira said that, like many businesses, the authority is short-staffed in customer service, adding: “We get to every customer. Is there sometimes a wait? Yes.”
Silveira said the authority's website gives customers the option of having someone call them back if they don’t want to wait on the phone.
Cathy LaSalle, of East Providence, said she was charged for driving on Route 95 in Pawtucket last spring.
“When I noticed the charge this summer ... I called E-ZPass and got no response,” LaSalle said in an email. “Then I called [the Turnpike and Bridge Authority] and was told that I needed to call [the Department of Transportation] and was given a couple of numbers to try. I left messages at both numbers and didn’t get a response. I think the amount was $3.75, so I gave up. It’s likely that others this happened to gave up too.“
Matt Grauer lives in eastern Connecticut, but works in Cranston. He was charged $5 when his pickup truck passed under the Woonasquatucket River Bridge eastbound gantry Oct. 18. The charge was mixed in with several smaller, legitimate tolls from the Massachusetts Turnpike that month.
But Grauer has an E-ZPass issued in New York and wasn’t sure who to contact. Silveira said he would have to contact New York, which would then resolve the charge with Rhode Island.
“I never check my bill, but your article prompted me to look at it,” Grauer told The Hummel Report his week. “It irritates me, it’s $5 and I don’t want them to charge me. But it’s also not high on my priority list of things to do,” he said.
Grauer said he wonders how many people give up trying to get refunds.
Alviti said last week that the incorrect charges represent a very small fraction of the overall transactions (1,787 out of 19 million). He explained that passenger vehicles were being ‘nicked’ when they passed under a gantry at the same time as a truck. The technology looks for a transponder and if can’t find one on the truck, it will read a car's. Alviti said it means the truck would escape tolling on that trip under the gantry.
Many who contacted us wanted to know why the state, which has known about this problem for months, did not publicize it so customers would check their bills or know who to contact to dispute a questionable charge.
Alviti said the system is performing well above what is called for in the contract and that since the number was relatively low, the DOT did not believe it warranted putting out a public notice.
The DOT is working with the company that provides the gantry to update software aimed at eliminating incorrect charges.
The Hummel Report is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that relies, in part, on donations. For more information, go to HummelReport.org. Reach Jim at Jim@HummelReport.org.