IPASS and the Open Toll system in Illinois is as broken as the roads. At least when it comes to my individual transponder and account. Whether that statement applies to yours is something you’ll have to investigate. Word of warning – make sure you have plenty of time, lots of patience and maybe a few Tylenol on hand before you begin.
I am not a daily commuter, at least not in my car. Being one of those lucky individuals whose morning commute consists of traveling less than fifty feet from my bed to my office, I really don’t have much to complain about. I not only don’t drive on the tollways every day, days or even weeks can go by without my having to pay for the privilege of risking my rims on potholes that resemble meteor craters. I go through slippers more frequently than I do tires.
All this is part of the reason I’ve been known to forget to add money to my IPASS. I do get the emails telling me when my account balance is low, but since I know I haven’t used even $10.00 of the $20.00 they want you to keep in your account when I get the email reminder, there isn’t a sense of urgency. I would rather have that money sitting in my bank than in the State’s.
When I do remember, it is always an opportunity to practice patience.
INVALID LOGON CREDENTIALS PROVIDED
My fights with the IPASS website have become legendary. When I say that I am going online to update my account, my family suddenly finds important things to do everywhere else in the house. They know from experience it is going to be an exercise in futility, and to avoid any blowback, they clear the decks. Quickly.
For reasons that will remain forever a mystery, every time I try to log on to my account, it does not recognize either my username or password. So, the first order of business is either to request my username be sent to me or request a password reset. This is when the fun begins.
In the past couple months, I have had to do this at least six times. Each time, I get a message that says my logon credentials will be sent to the email on file in a few minutes. Each time, those few minutes has turned into days. I guess those minutes are measured in tollway commute times. One time, it never came at all and after more than a week (and another reminder in my email) I had to go back and request it again.
In the interim, I need to address the fact that my account has a low balance. I know this not only because I have seen the light turn yellow as I’ve passed through a toll, but because I’ve received an email telling me my balance is low. At the same email address the system seems to have difficulty locating when I request my logon credentials.
On the IPASS transponder is a 1-800 number that conveniently spells out “UC-IPASS”. I’m not sure what the “UC” stands for, but I guess there aren’t many good options for the numbers “8” and “2” on the phone pad. “TA” could be used, but it wouldn’t make much more sense.
Once you dial in and listen through the instructions, in Spanish, for what to do if you want a Spanish speaking operator (at least you don’t have to press “1” for English) and you successfully navigate through the menus, sit on hold while you are repeatedly told how important your call is, how operators are busy assisting other customers, that calls are answered in the order in which they are received and that all calls may be recorded for quality and training purposes, you get to my favorite part, the perky voice telling you how to access your account online. If I could get online access to my account, I wouldn’t be calling.
Sadly, this is the high point of the call. Once you do get an operator, it is time to pull up your account. But, before they can do that they need to verify 1) your account number, violation notice and/or transponder number, 2) your name, 3) your address with the city and zip code, 4) the last four digits of your driver’s license number AND 5) your telephone number. If you do not have all of that information on hand, they tell you they can’t access your account. One time, when all I had was the transponder, they required the digits from my license plate.
Which pieces of information you will need seems to be up to the person you are speaking to. Another time repeatedly explaining I did not have my account number because I couldn’t get into my account online resulted in my being transferred to someone who can assist me with online account problems. Another time, I offered my shoe size, but the operator didn’t see the humor. When after again explaining if I could access my account number online I wouldn’t be calling, I asked to speak to a supervisor, she hung up on me.
In all but two instances, rather than go find the missing driver's license number, license plate or whatever, I just gave up, figuring I’ll just wait another day or so for my log in credentials to be emailed to me. In those two exceptions, I was able to supply all the information they demanded, primarily because I had a violation notice in my hand. Actually, the first time I was calling about a violation notice, I did have to call back because my purse with my driver’s license was in another room at the other end of the house and the operator told me to call back when I had to ask to her to hold while I went to get it.
ILLINOIS TOLLWAY NOTICE OF TOLL VIOLATION
Last month was one of the two times I received a violation notice. Keep in mind that I’d been trying, unsuccessfully, to get online to address this, granted, as I remembered or was reminded by email notices, for weeks. I would get an email notice, attempt to sign on, have either my username or password not recognized, and request a reset. A day or several later, I would get that piece in the email, attempt to use it and be told the other half of the logon credentials were incorrect, forcing me to request a reset… It actually became a bad joke. But, now that I was being told I owed nearly $200.00 dollars in unpaid tolls and fines, I had to stop playing with the system and get this addressed.
When I finally got through to a human, verified all the required information and did give my shoe size (this operator thought that was funny), I spent the next twenty-five minutes attempting to simply add money to the account to bring it current. Part of the problem is the account was showing a negative balance, and had been in the red for more than 30 days. This, I was told, prevented the operator from seeing all the history and verifying that my payment would not only take care of the unpaid tolls, but leave a positive balance in my account. At least I wasn’t being charged all those $20.00 fines.
Either I was incapable of understanding how she could not verify the account overages or she was incapable of explaining it. In the end, I put $43.28 on my credit card, an amount I was assured took care of the outstanding tolls and left a $20.00 balance.
Imagine my surprise when I got another violation notice in the mail yesterday. This one was for different unpaid tolls, but they were from the same time period which was supposedly covered in the last violation notice. Once again, I tried logging onto my account online, was told my password was incorrect and I once again dutifully requested a reset. Then, I picked up the phone.
This operator required all of the pieces listed above, which I did have on hand (I do learn) but also required my license plate number. Merely because I was curious, I asked why different operators required different information. To which she replied “umm, no, you have to give all the information or we can’t access your account” in a particularly petulant voice.
Once upon a time in a former life, I was a supervisor for a call center. Because of that, I do understand how this all works. Operators have a script, are nearly constantly monitored and are very limited in what they can and cannot do or say. In general, I’m pretty patient with them, because afterall, they are just trying to make a living doing a job most of us would hate. My patience, however, does not extend to rudeness, snotty attitudes or petulance. Because of my former life experience, I know the magic words,
“GET ME A SUPERVISOR"
If I’m having a problem and I know, or when it becomes apparent, the operator cannot or does not have the authority to help me, in a calm, friendly voice (smile when you are speaking on the phone, it comes through in your voice) I say, “I understand you cannot do this, don’t have the answer, etc., so just pretend I’m an irate customer and I’m yelling at you and pass me off to a supervisor”. Usually, the operator will giggle, which tells me she is working for a phone center that requires its front line people to at least attempt to handle an issue before contacting a supervisor. Operators really do appreciate it when you understand they are just doing their job. Of course, when the supervisor gets on the line, I make sure to say that the operator was very nice and helpful and it’s not her fault I’m escalating the call.
Today, when after a seven minute hold I got to a supervisor, I did not issue a compliment. It is one of the rare times I told the supervisor that someone needed retraining in how to speak to a customer. Surprisingly, she did not ask for my driver’s license number or my license plate. But I did tell her my shoe size.
After allowing the supervisor to look over the history of the account and verify that I had, two weeks ago, paid off the outstanding tolls and supposedly left a $20.00 balance, I made the mistake of asking “how can this be?” We went several rounds of being put on hold, being told something that didn’t make sense or that contradicted what she had previously said, before I gave up. I said, “Okay, no more reasons, I don’t care. How much do I have to put on the account, right now, to bring it above negative and take care of the unpaid tolls?” Again, at least I wasn’t being charged all the fines.
Once that was taken care of, I requested to have an itemized summary of all the account activity for the last three months mailed to my home address, the one I’d been required to verify umpteen times. She told me I can access that information online.
While my mouth was still hanging open but before I could say a word, I got the ping announcing the arrival of an email. Unbelievably, it was my logon credentials and it wasn't days later, it was even less than an hour!. So, rather than blister her ears, I told her to hold and immediately attempted to use the just delivered information. Wonder of wonders, it let me into my online account. I thanked the supervisor and hung up.
Now, I am able to verify the IPASS system is broken. I’ve been charged tolls, twice at one minute intervals, once at a two minute interval going in opposite directions on the same highway. Three times, I seem to have been charged twice, again at less than one minute apart, for the same toll, traveling in the same direction. I don’t drive the tollways every day, or even every week. It makes me wonder how many other drivers are being charged multiple times for the same toll or for going both directions nearly simultaneously.
Not all of the mistakes favor the tollway. Going back over the last two years (which amounts to 163 tolls altogether for this non-commuting driver), there were multiple times I was not charged when I should have been. One of the examples is, there is a charge at plaza A, then one at B, then one at D but none for C. On the same day, on the return trip, I was only charged for plaza A.
I’m probably better off leaving well enough alone. Looking at days when my husband was driving my car (the time of day and route tells me it was him) the timing of the toll charges show he had to be doing over 85mph between toll plazas. I can just see getting tickets in the mail for speeding.
Still, there was one burning question for which I did not have an answer. What happened to the money I had put into the account two weeks ago, and how is the balance showing negative again?
The website lets you download a report in an Excel format of all the account activity. Adding up all the toll charges in the past two years and subtracting that from the money put in over the same time frame, there is $54.60 missing.
At this point, my eyes are crossing, my head is splitting and I am so mad I could spit. I could look at that $54.60 and say, who knows how much I was undercharged? Maybe I’m actually coming out ahead. But, when added together, all the tolls for the past two years amount to only $151.60. Even wrongly assigning a value of just over $1.07 per toll, that would mean I would had to have gone through more than 50 tolls without being charged. I’m pretty sure an error that big in my favor would not have gone unnoticed by IDOT.
I’m going to wait for another set of eyes and a cooler head to look over the numbers. Then, I don’t know what to do. Except maybe write about it and encourage other people to take a good, hard look at your IPASS account. Perhaps if enough people see major discrepancies, someone will start an investigation.
One of the questions I’d like answered is, if my case proves not to be the one, sole exception, how much money is IDOT stealing from people? The next natural question is, with all that extra money, how come driving down the tollway is still such an adventure obstacle course with all those Volkswagen eating potholes?
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