FOX25 Investigates: Glitch in new electronic tolling hit customer with bogus charges

BOSTON — FOX25 Investigates uncovered a glitch in the new tolling system on the Mass Turnpike that hit one woman with hundreds of dollars in bogus charges.

Patricia Doherty of Quincy said she couldn’t get the problem resolved with MassDOT until she contacted Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen.

Doherty said her problems began when mysterious $40 charges from “Commonwealth of ACH Auto” began showing up on her bank statement. Her bank flagged the charges as fraud and rejected the payments.

That’s when Doherty began receiving demands for more money in the mail from E-Z Pass and MassDOT.

“I haven't had an EZ Pass account for four years,” said Doherty. “I was totally confused…They said, your account is delinquent. You owe us $185. And I'm like, no I don’t.”

Finding the source of the problem

Doherty finally realized the charges stemmed from four years ago when someone stole the license plates off her Jeep. The thief racked up 19 toll violations on the Mass Pike before being caught.

Doherty got new license plates and the state eventually sent her official letters in the mail saying she wasn’t liable for those violations.

Doherty told FOX25 Investigates she had put the whole incident behind her until the new charges suddenly popped up in November.

MassDOT told FOX25 that “accounts that were previously suspended were migrated onto our new system and some triggered a notification.”

The agency only resolved Doherty’s issue and cleared her bogus charges two months later – after FOX25 Investigates got involved.

“It just seems strange to me that it all coincides with the taking down of the toll booths,” said Doherty. “How many other people are out there and having the same situation happen to them?”

Not an isolated problem

MassDOT told FOX25 the agency doesn’t know if other E-Z Pass holders are experiencing similar problems since the new electronic tolling system went live in November.

But FOX25 Investigates obtained records showing the agency sent out 5,390 “past due” collection notices in the last two months of 2016. That’s more than a 500 percent increase over the same period the previous year.

FOX25 found the state hired Pennsylvania-based firm TransCore on a 10-year, $200 million contract to handle billing and collections for the new electronic tolling system.

Doherty said MassDOT later confirmed to her through a letter and phone call that somehow her account “got migrated over” with the new system.

With nearly two million Massachusetts E-Z Pass accounts and more than three million transponders in circulation, some government watchdogs suspect Doherty isn’t alone.

“When there's a software shift, there tends to be bugs and this is a pretty major bug,” said Mary Connaughton, a former Turnpike Authority Board member and Pioneer Institute’s director of government transparency. “The question is, was this an isolated occurrence or not? And typically, when it's a bug, it's not an isolated occurrence.”

MassDOT refused FOX25’s interview requests, but agency officials admitted Doherty isn’t the only one with an old account who recently received “past due” notices.

When FOX25 Investigates asked what the agency is doing to fix the problem, MassDOT said it’s up to customers to catch any mistakes.