Portsmouth man’s toll trouble resolved; ERC changing how it does business

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — 10 On Your Side has helped a Portsmouth resident fix an E-ZPass bill for tolls he shouldn’t have received.

Last Thursday, Governor Terry McAuliffe held a news conference claiming ERC was changing the way it does business, but we’ve heard that line before for years. However, new ERC CEO Philip Shucet shows how the voices behind significant complaints have finally been heard.

“I am exhausted. It has been a stressful six or seven months,” says Portsmouth resident Bill West.

West has been fighting ERC for using a service road parallel to the Midtown Tunnel. He went down the service road, merging into traffic coming out of the tunnel. They all passed under the toll gantry, which is located over what becomes the Martin Luther King Expressway.

Only the tunnel commuters should be tolled, because the state paid down the toll on the MLK with almost $80 million. West was tolled just the same as those who went through the tunnel. The problem: West didn’t go through the tunnel and should not have been tolled. His complaints led to ERC putting up a sign that read “right turn must pay toll.” ERC apparently thought, wrongly, that putting up the sign was a convenient way to toll drivers who did not actually go through the tunnel. The problem with that? The sign does not allow ERC to legally charge a toll.

Man says he was charged just for driving near the Midtown Tunnel

After WAVY News reported about West’s troubles, ERC refunded the charges to his E-ZPass account. However, the ERC collection agency in Texas sent West a $53 pay-by-plate bill last week.

West was going under the gantry not knowing he was being tolled, and didn’t realize his E-ZPass account had gone negative, so when it did, he started getting the pay-by-plate rate — and those bills are sent through the mail.

“They did refund the E-ZPass funds, however the ERT toll-by-plate was due to the fact that E-ZPass had been depleted, so they were charging me toll-by-plate rate,” West said.

ERC’s customer service has become such an issue, longtime transportation administrator Philip Shucet was put in charge to right the ERC ship. He has been on the job one week.

Elizabeth River Crossings names Philip Shucet as new CEO

10 On Your Side asked Bill West if he was willing to give Shucet the opportunity to make this right. He answered, “If he is willing to make it right, sure. Everybody deserves a second chance.”

With that in mind, WAVY’s Andy Fox went to Shucet at the ERC office complex and asked him about West’s predicament.

“No, he will not have to pay that.”

Done.

Shucet went on, “As of last week, we had our collection agency stop sending out any further notices until we could get everything sorted out.”

West’s notice was sent out before the new Shucet directive last week. The statement was dated March 20.

Shucet added, “What I think happened to Mr. West, he was in a pipeline of thousands of people in line for notices.”

That is in itself shocking, that there are literally thousands of people in line for notices, or dealing with notices that are no longer being processed.

For now, DMV holds on license renewals for delinquent ERC tolls are suspended. That has been a real issue for those who have not paid tolls or ERC’s skyrocketing administration fees. DMV can only lift a hold at ERC’s direction.

“We have also put a stop on any further DMV holds,” Shucet said. “That doesn’t mean it will be forever, but it is during this period of time that we are sorting through all the issues.”

You could call this an ERC stand-down. It so happens when 10 On Your Side showed up to talk with Shucet on Thursday, Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne was talking to ERC workers about the second chance for better customer service.

“You are operating a business just like customers, and the whole point is customer perception is very important.”

Outside the meeting, Shucet said, “I want us to be viewed as customer service providers who just happen to run a business, but the first focus is on customer service.”

Back at his home, West told WAVY News, “10 is on my side and on everybody’s side.They [ERC] listen to the voice and the voice can’t be heard without you.”

Again, to show the complexity of this customer service challenge, Shucet said Bill West is one of thousands who received collection notices, which ERC is now going through.

Following our report, ERC is now putting up another gantry on that service road that will cancel the toll drivers like West get as they drive under the next gantry used for Midtown Tunnel traffic.