Investigative Summary:

This story is part of KXAN’s “TxTag Troubles” investigative project launched May 7, 2023. Following related reports in recent years, our team rededicated its resources to this major consumer issue, after hundreds of viewers complained to us about resurfaced billing and customer service problems with the state’s tollway operator and its contracted vendors. During our reporting, the Texas Department of Transportation began reaching out to viewers who had contacted KXAN to resolve their issues, and state lawmakers renewed their approach to fixing future TxTag problems.

PFLUGERVILLE, Texas (KXAN) — Clint Harris and his wife drive the tollways to and from work almost every day. It has also become part of their routine to check their online TxTag account statement for billing mistakes.

“A lot of people were complaining about duplicate charges. I was like, ‘Interesting, I should probably check ours,’” Harris said. “Sure, enough it didn’t take long to find one or two there every couple of months.”

Harris said the overcharge was consistent in format. He would usually find two charges on the same date, at the same toll plaza, in the same lane, and usually within seconds of each other. And every time Harris caught the duplicate charge, he would message or call TxTag to have it corrected.

“It’s always me reaching out to them, letting them know, ‘Hey there is an issue,’” Harris said.

			Clint Harris drives through his neighborhood. (KXAN Photo/Chris Nelson)

Clint Harris drives through his neighborhood. (KXAN Photo/Chris Nelson)

Complaint records obtained through an open records request show about 800 toll-related complaints made to the Texas Department of Transportation since 2020. Our analysis found at least 75% of the complaints describe drivers dealing with billing or customer service issues, including one customer who said she was charged twice more than 20 times in a month.

KXAN also did its own analysis of tips we’ve received in that same time period. About three-quarters of them mention issues with billing and customer service.

TxDOT makes changes, holds vendors accountable

A company named TTEC came on as TxDOT’s contractor handling customer service and billing in 2020. Public records show TTEC was assessed over $3 million in financial liquidated damages.

The contract between TTEC and TxDOT states the department can assess liquidated damages against the contractor when it fails to meet targets and for causing lapses in service. TxDOT did not disclose or release records showing the exact circumstances prompting the damages.

TxDOT also grades the performance of TTEC with scorecards, but the department is fighting to withhold those documents from public disclosure, too.

In a letter to the Texas Office of the Attorney General, attorneys for TxDOT said the monthly reports contained internal recommendations and information that could impact the awarding of a future contract, if made public.

In the past, TxDOT terminated the contract of another vendor working on the tollway’s system for poor performance. The agency’s Executive Director Marc Williams told us he believes the new companies operating the toll system are performing better than previous vendors — noting he believes the current ones “have been doing an exceptional job” working through problems stemming from that past vendor.

“We had a really significant issue with a previous vendor, and we had to terminate their contract, and there has been some recovery because of that, trying to address some of the issues that they had with some of the data migration that we had to work through,” Williams said.

Still, he added, “there are some areas that they have got to improve on, and we want to hold them accountable, and we expect them to improve as we expect — customers expect us, TxDOT, to improve.”

TxTag website issues another driver of complaints

The website TxTag customers use to pay their bills online and to submit complaints about issues involving the state’s tollways has also shown a pattern of malfunction over the last several years.

Information and chart summarizing the announcements posted on TxTag’s website that relate to maintenance or possible issues with TxTag’s system. Source: TxTag, KXAN (KXAN Interactive/Dalton Huey)

One TxTag announcement informing customers of “intermittent phone issues” was posted on Aug. 18, 2021 with an end date of Jan. 5, 2023 — more than 500 days of potential issues contacting TxTag customer service by phone.

“We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience,” the TxTag announcement wrote.

In a statement to KXAN, TxDOT said its toll systems undergo routine, scheduled maintenance, which causes system disruptions and outages on a monthly basis. According to the agency, on the third Saturday of every month, maintenance is performed during overnight hours and lasts approximately 12 hours. Additionally, on the third Thursday of every month, maintenance is performed resulting in an outage of around 30 minutes to an hour.

“TxDOT staff, in cooperation with TxTag vendors, work collaboratively to weigh the need for any maintenance outages against customer impact. As part of TxTag customer service efforts, we alert TxTag customers to events and circumstances which will or may affect customer service levels and/or user experiences. All planned outages are limited to occur outside of business hours,” TxDOT said in a statement to KXAN. “In the event of unexpected outages or system issues, messages are placed as quickly as possible and remain until they are no longer warranted.”

Harris said he and his wife haven’t seen improvement in the system in the last few years.

“It’s been several years, and it is still happening,” Harris said. “If I remember, they said it was a software issue that was the primary blame or whatever.”

Investigator Kelly Wiley speaks to KXAN Live Anchor Will DuPree about common TxTag Troubles and what’s being done to address them.

“When are they going to fix it?” Harris asked. “When is it going to be a more accurate system?”