Toll server shutdown gives thousands ‘free’ rides

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Hundreds of thousands of drivers passed through the Downtown and Midtown tunnels in March and April — for free.

Elizabeth River Crossings’ coding error and consequent server shut down created a backlog that could be to blame for recent E-ZPass billing issues. 10 On Your Side has been reporting on the billing problems for weeks. In all cases, the sensors did not read customers’ transponders, and in some instances, the cross-checking system did not recognize the license plates of E-ZPass account holders.

“Anytime we see an anomaly, red flags go up on our side,” said David Caudill, VDOT’s Division Administrator of Tolling Operations.

Caudill oversees the tolls collected by Elizabeth River Crossings, and in March, he noticed $0 showing up in the system’s toll rate field: “What we observed in March were some transactions coming from the ERC facility that had $0 amounts, and that’s something we should not be seeing.”

VDOT alerted ERC, who investigated and found coding errors in its “back office” server. ERC shut down the server for at least 10 days, while the coding was being corrected.

“They typically see in the neighborhood of 80,000 E-ZPass transactions a day,” Caudill said. “So, if they’re offline for a 10-day period, you could easily have 800,000 transactions backlogged.”

Then in April, VDOT saw another red flag. This time Caudill’s staff didn’t see any toll transactions, at all. Again ERC worked on coding the server. Again, the server shut down for eight or nine days. Again, hundreds of thousands of cars went through the tunnels free of charge.

Caudill says the system just started working, in real-time, on Sunday. His concern is that customers accounts are not overwhelmed when all those transactions finally go through the system. That is, if the data captured during the server issue, is still there.

VDOT could not guarantee the data captured by the E-ZPass equipment during the server shut down is still there. They referred to ERC.

ERC confirmed late Wednesday that VDOT’s information is correct. Spokesperson Leila Rice said she told about the glitch in April, but, just Tuesday, when asked her to explain it, she provided a statement pointing to inactive accounts, license plate typos, misplaced transponders and system error as the causes of confusing billing.

It seems system error may have played a much larger role than ERC originally indicated.

In response to improper billing, Governor Terry McAuliffe publicly told ERC to “do [their] job right.” VDOT Commissioner Charlie Kilpatrick called ERC’s billing system inconsistent and unreliable.

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