Florida’s SunPass debacle could cost more than $50 million

The lost money is from unpaid tolls stemming from problems with the vendor Conduent State & Local Solutions.
A view of the I-275 northbound Sunpass lane at the Skyway Bridge.
A view of the I-275 northbound Sunpass lane at the Skyway Bridge. [ VRAGOVIC, WILL | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Sept. 19, 2019

Florida’s botched SunPass rollout last year could cost the state more than $50 million in unpaid tolls, the new head of the state’s Turnpike Enterprise told lawmakers Wednesday.

Executive Director Nicola Liquori said the department expects to collect only 90 percent of its toll revenue for the fiscal year following the disastrous rollout of the new SunPass system in June last year.

That’s five percentage points lower than normal, and it works out to about $50 million in uncollected toll revenue, Liquori said.

The problems can be chalked up to the New Jersey-based company Conduent State & Local Solutions, which won a lucrative seven-year contract in 2013 to take over processing toll transactions.

Conduent’s software was woefully unequipped to handle the number transactions, however, and the results led to overbilling, missed payments and headaches for drivers across the state.

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In the aftermath, the state decided to delay sending bills to customers until the problems could be sorted out.

That’s the reason why the state could be losing out on tens of millions of dollars, Liquori said.

It’s not a technical problem, she said. Rather, the longer someone waits to send a bill out, the less likely the sender is to collect it.

She said the state is sending about $120 million in unpaid bills during the 12-month span after the rollout to bill collectors, and she expects them to recoup between 50 percent and 60 percent of it.

Liquori, who was promoted to lead the agency that oversees the state’s toll roads last month, said the department is now moving forward and expects to collect the normal 95 percent of tolls this year.

“We realize that we tripped a little bit, but we’re looking forward,” Liquori told the House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee.

RELATED STORY: Florida won’t renew SunPass contract with troubled contractor, transportation secretary says

The state had the option of extending Conduent’s contract by another seven years, but transportation officials refused to do so. The department plans on sending a new request for information to companies looking to pick up the second seven-year deal on Friday.

One of Liquori’s predecessors was largely responsible for selecting Conduent. In 2013, Turnpike Enterprise Director Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti chose Conduent over its competitors, even though the competitors were cheaper and had better technical scores.

The Times/Herald found the turnpike also lowered its minimum requirements and deviated from its procurement policies to choose Conduent.

RELATED STORY: How Florida’s SunPass debacle started in 2012

Although Florida’s tollways were handling 1 billion annual toll transactions back then, the Turnpike Enterprise lowered the bid’s requirements to just 500 million transactions.

Conduent’s competitors, who already had software systems processing billions of annual transactions, suspected the requirements were lowered to accommodate Conduent.

Rep. Mel Ponder, R-Destin, asked Liquori about those minimum requirements and how she would prevent the state from getting “egg on our face again.”

“What they’ve done to the state is pretty disruptive,” Ponder said.

Liquori said afterward that the companies bidding on the new contract will have to demonstrate that they’re already able to process the amount of transactions SunPass currently manages.

“I will be personally accountable for overseeing this selection process,” Liquori told lawmakers.