SunPass system was ‘completely overwhelmed’ last year, but most problems fixed, FDOT says

“There just wasn’t enough horsepower there to process it all," official says of the contractor tasked with processing SunPass tolls.
Cars pass through the Sun Pass toll lanes at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge toll booth plaza in St. Petersburg on July 11.  (EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times)
Cars pass through the Sun Pass toll lanes at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge toll booth plaza in St. Petersburg on July 11. (EVE EDELHEIT | Times)
Published Feb. 13, 2019|Updated Feb. 13, 2019

The company system behind the SunPass debacle last summer “clearly wasn’t good enough," but most of the problems have been fixed, a Florida Department of Transportation official told lawmakers Wednesday.

“The system was completely overwhelmed,” Gerry O’Reilly, secretary for FDOT’s district 4 region said. “There just wasn’t enough horsepower there to process it all.”

When the state’s electronic tolling system went down in June, the result was chaos, with bills not going out, some people being overbilled, and general confusion about how to fix the problems.

State Rep. Mel Ponder, R-Destin, said the contractor, Conduent State & Local Solutions, should have known that it was woefully unequipped to handle the millions of tolls Florida drivers rack up each week.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: SunPass is a mess. Florida could have seen it coming.

“This shouldn’t have been a surprise to them, nor should it have been a surprise that their system couldn’t remotely handle it,” Ponder said.

The problem goes back to 2012, when lawmakers asked state transportation commissioners to look at a one-stop-shop for the state’s different toll systems, according to O’Reilly. The idea was a single customer service phone number and a single invoice for the state’s tolls, he said.

The Florida Turnpike Enterprise, which led the effort, settled on Conduent, then known as Xerox, which has contracts — and problems — is several other states.

The plan was for Conduent to start processing tolls over the summer last year. The old system would go offline, and Conduent’s system would take over six days later, processing new tolls and the old tolls that were missed during the gap.

But when Conduent’s system took over in June, it couldn’t handle all the transactions. Covering the backlog of tolls over the six days was supposed to take a couple of weeks, O’Reilly said. Instead, it took about two and a half months.

Lawmakers have been hearing from constituents about it ever since. Last week, senators unloaded their grievances on O’Reilly. No one from Conduent has appeared before lawmakers.

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

O’Reilly said Wednesday that Conduent has not been paid since June, but that’s because the company hasn’t been submitting invoices to be paid. The company submitted its first last week, and FDOT officials are looking over it for accuracy, he said.

Despite all the problems, the most that FDOT could withhold from the company is 25 percent of their bill, based on the contract with the state, O’Reilly said.

But he said the system is working properly and nearly all the bills have gone out.