7 On Your Side: FasTrak customers unfairly hit with penalties

Thursday, February 12, 2015
7 On Your Side: FasTrak customers unfairly hit with penalties
Transit authorities have slapped a $330,000 fine against the operators of the FasTrak toll system due to bad customer service.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A 7 On Your Side investigation has uncovered horrendous customer service for Bay Area FasTrak users and drivers are paying the price. Transit authorities have slapped a $330,000 fine against the operators of the FasTrak toll system.

The $330,000 penalty for bad customer service merely scratches the surface of what 7 On Your Side has uncovered. Thousands of drivers are getting hit with penalties -- most on the Golden Gate Bridge, where you no longer pay a toll taker. And if you don't have a FasTrak account, you may be in for a fight.

Derek Reid of Sonoma headed out for a day trip across the Golden Gate nearly two years ago. He never imagined he'd still be fighting over the bridge toll today.

"There were no toll takers at the time, so we just crossed through and waited for the ticket in the mail," explained Reid.

He was supposed to receive an invoice for the $6 toll. Instead, he got a notice of toll evasion with a $25 penalty. He contacted the toll agency FasTrak. Reid said, "They kept admitting that they were wrong."

FasTrak later sent him the toll invoice and he paid the $6. Everything was fine, or so he thought.

"We went to register our car and they said there was a hold on our registration," Reid recalled.

FasTrak never dismissed that violation. Instead, the fine went up to $79 and Reid couldn't register his car until he paid it.

"They kept admitting that it was their error, that we did pay the ticket, that we shouldn't have to pay the fees, but they're real sorry," said Reid.

Reid came to 7 On Your Side and he isn't the only one. Dozens of other drivers tell us they received a bill for a violation before they had a chance to pay the toll.

"We have seen a spike since we went to all-electronic tolling," said Andrew Fremier of the Bay Area Toll Authority. He acknowledges violations shot up after the Golden Gate Bridge eliminated toll takers in 2013. A 7 On Your Side investigation revealed a staggering increase.

In 2014, nearly a quarter million drivers had to pay penalties for toll evasion on the bridge. That's five times more violations than in 2012 when drivers could still pay a toll taker.

"We know it's incredibly frustrating for our customers," admits Priya Clemens, a Bridge District spokeswoman. "We're not happy with how it's been run."

What is more surprising is who is operating FasTrak. It's the Xerox Corporation.

"The fact that a private corporation, Xerox, can put a hold on the DMV -- my registration -- seems wrong," Reid said.

Bay Area taxpayers are giving Xerox $117.5 million to operate the FasTrak Customer Service Center for five years. That includes collecting a fee every time Xerox puts a first violation notice in the mail.

"Xerox manages and profits from the FasTrak program and it imposes unfair penalties on drivers," said attorney Adam Gutride, who filed a class action lawsuit in San Francisco against Xerox, the Bridge District and Toll Authority.

The suit says Xerox wields the power of a government agency without giving drivers their rights of due process.

"They're holding the registrations hostage of people who are trying to pay their tolls, are trying to comply with the law," said Gutride.

He says invoices often go to the wrong address. Drivers have no way to pay their toll without it and can't get answers from FasTrak Customer Service.

Xerox said it cannot comment on the lawsuit, but released a statement saying: "Xerox takes seriously any issues which affect motorists. Customer appeals happen for many reasons, and each appeal is addressed based on the individual circumstances."

"They are a private company and obviously their business model is to make a profit and I think that should be expected for doing the work," said Andrew Fremier from the Bay Area Toll Authority.

Fremier says the Toll Authority is still responsible for tolls and penalties and is working with Xerox to improve customer service.

Reid recorded three hours on the phone with FasTrak. Remember his toll violation?

"I've been dealing with this for one year, four months and six days and I'm at the end of my rope," said Reid on tape with FasTrak customer service.

As for Reid's toll violation, FasTrak dismissed it only to put it back on his DMV record the following year.

"I'm begging you to let me talk to a supervisor," he said.

The agent still could not remove the DMV hold.

A big reason for that $330,000 penalty is Xerox accidentally mailed violation notices to 16,000 drivers last year. Now it has to refund penalty fees those drivers paid.

Transit agencies are now hiring a consultant to help Xerox fix problems at FasTrak.

7 On Your Side will keep track of this issue and report back on any new findings.