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Glitch giving SunPass drivers bad messages about cash balance
By CHRISTY McKERNEY Sun-Sentinel Web-posted: 12:25 a.m. Feb. 4, 2000
Notice to commuters: SunPass is not eating your money. So what's the little red light on your transponder, showing no balance when you know your credit card or checking account just fed the SunPass meter your hard-earned $25? More than likely, it's a computer glitch. Your money's there, SunPass officials say. It's just not registering. The state's $42 million SunPass system, which was introduced in April, has been experiencing software problems during the past month, according to Michael Washburn, SunPass spokesman with the Department of Transportation. "It's still new, and this absolutely is a growing pain," Washburn said. DOT officials hope to have the problem corrected some time next week. Meanwhile, don't expect a ticket in the mail. Washburn suggests calling customer service with questions. With almost 150,000 SunPass users statewide, several thousand complaints about the glitch have been received since mid-January, said Stephen Spitzer, customer service manager with SunPass Operations. SunPass is being used at 46 toll plazas throughout the state, 40 of them in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Four locations on toll bridges in the Panhandle and two on Alligator Alley also use it. The computerized system allows a motorist to prepay tolls into an account. The driver then breezes through toll plazas at 25 mph. Each time the car passes through a toll plaza, the toll is deducted and the amount left in the account is electronically updated on a box, or transponder, that is attached to the car windshield. The transponder's display screen has a red, yellow and green light. When the account gets down to a low balance of $10, the transponder beeps and a yellow light comes on. A red light comes on when the account balance drops to zero. The glitch hasn't affected everybody. But motorists who have automatic replenishment from a credit card or checking account are putting money into their SunPass account that is not being reflected on their transponder. Ellie Casanova, of Miami, who manages the Florida Lobby Shop at the Pompano Beach Service Center along Florida's Turnpike, has her SunPass account set to replenish from a credit card. She was told about the glitch three weeks ago, when the red transponder light came on and she called in. "I have to call it in manually and have them charge it every time," she said. "What people are seeing is that they get their low balance indicator, and they know that it should be replenished automatically," Washburn said. SunPass users with this problem can still use the express lanes at the tollbooths, but their license plates will be photographed and sent to the Central Data Center in Boca Raton. Washburn said employees there separate violators' plates from plates registered to SunPass users with accounts set up for automatic replenishment. SunPass users whose accounts are affected by the glitch will not receive warnings or tickets, he said. He said the agency shouldn't lose revenue from the problem. This isn't the first speed bump in Florida's effort to ease gridlock at its tollbooths. The system failed to properly credit or deduct toll payments at least 10 percent of the time at a bridge connecting Destin and Niceville in Florida's Panhandle, Mid-Bay Bridge Authority Executive Director Jim Vest said this summer. That problem appeared to be the same: The main computer recorded the sale and billed the credit card, but the toll credits did not show up on the transponders. Motorists with questions about SunPass accounts can call the customer service center at 1-888-865-5352.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), February 04, 2000