Up to 8,200 people got a big surprise in the mail recently: Toll bills, in some cases approaching $1,300, for driving on Washington state roads, including the Tacoma Narrows bridges.
A glitch in a server operated by the state’s toll vendor, Electronic Transaction Consultants of Richardson, Texas, caused delays in billing for some people who crossed the Narrows or state Route 520 bridges or drove in the express lanes on Interstate 405, said Emily Pace, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.
As a result, bills piled up unpaid — for some customers, as long as a year.
The malfunction, which began in March 2015, hit drivers who rely on license-plate readers rather than stopping at toll booths. The state sends them a bill by mail.
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Pace said Electronic Transaction Consultants discovered the problem last month and began sending out corrected bills.
The phones soon began ringing in the tolling program’s customer service center, Pace said.
“We certainly are aware it’s an impact and frustrating for our customers,” she said.
They are responsible for the bills, which range from about $110 for infrequent users to up to $1,300 for frequent users, Pace said. Drivers with electronic “Good to Go” accounts, which rely on transponders, were not affected.
The state has extended the time to pay for affected drivers to 30 days for those with up to 20 transactions and up to six months for those with 150 transactions or more.
Pace said affected people also can set up Good to Go accounts at a customer service center to avoid paying mail-in fees.
Department officials are talking to the vendor about setting up safeguards to avoid similar problems in the future, Pace said. There are no provisions in the state’s contract with the firm that allows for sanctions, she said.
An email from The News Tribune to Electronic Transaction Consultants asking for an explanation of the glitch and what’s been done to fix it was not immediately returned.
About 126,000 transactions were incorrectly processed between March 2015 and March of this year, Pace said, a small fraction of the millions recorded each year. More than 14 million transactions were processed on the Narrows bridges alone in fiscal year 2015, she said.