Florida’s governor has ordered the continued suspension of fees and penalties for SunPass customers following the Florida Department of Transportation’s latest fine on the contractor responsible for mismanaging the toll systems transition.
“Since I’ve been governor, I’ve heard the concerns from citizens and customers of SunPass and the hardships they’ve been facing related to their delayed bills and billing errors by the contractor, Conduent,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a statement.
Conduent State & Local Solutions, the company awarded the $300 million SunPass upgrade contract in 2015, has been fined $4.6 million so far, and that number could continue to increase.
FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault has told the director of the Florida Turnpike “to assess maximum performance penalties allowed under the contract” with Conduent.
“We are committed to fixing the issues related to Conduent’s performance and we will continue to hold them accountable,” FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault said in a statement.
In addition to the fine, several personnel changes have been made, including the appointment of a new acting director of toll systems.
Conduent has also been ordered to add more people to its customer service centers.
“This is a technology issue for Conduent, but it’s a customer-service issue for citizens. I’ve been working closely with the new FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault to ensure customers are protected and receive a premium level of service,” DeSantis’ statement read.
DeSantis has ordered that the suspension of fees and penalties for SunPass and Toll-By-Plate users continue until June 1.
Florida Politics noted that Conduent’s founder and top lobbyist were both major DeSantis campaign contributors.
This makes for an interesting wrinkle in the governor’s hardline stance against Conduent which is in stark contrast to the approach taken by former Gov. Rick Scott, who had financial ties to the company.
When Conduent went live with the conversion in the summer of 2018, the system fell apart. There were outages, overdrafts, backlogged transactions and unreasonably long customer service wait times.
Scott remained silent on the issue for over two months before finally ordering an investigation into the fiasco.
The Tampa Bay Times laid out the public documents that linked Scott to Conduent.
Records showed Scott and his wife invested at least $5 million in a fund managed by Highline Capital Management, which held $127 million worth of Conduent Inc. stock.
Conduent was then awarded the contract by FDOT, whose secretary is appointed by Scott.
To complicate matters, the state paid $3.6 million to have Cubic Transportation Systems, a competitor for the contract, drop its bid protest.
Jon Ramirez, a former Cubic executive, said, “I’ve been in this business for 20 years, and I’ve never heard of anything like this.”
Several political leaders have questioned the deal, including the chair of the Senate’s transportation committee.
“This vendor has given our state a black eye. They have cost elected officials and the Department of Transportation some significant goodwill impairment with the public,” said Sen. Tom Lee.
There are still 3 and a half years left on Conduent’s contract.
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