Behind the scenes of Elizabeth River Crossings’ customer service center

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Customer service for Elizabeth River Crossings, as 10 On Your Said has reported, has been a nightmare for a long time. However, new leadership deserves a fair hearing in efforts to turn around the long troubled tolling organization.

With the hiring of transportation administrator Philip Shucet as the company’s new CEO, there are visible changes to ERC.

Shucet is opening up about ERC and what he is doing to right the ship. He began with customer service, and for the first time, 10 On Your Side was allowed into the customer service center on Friday to see how settlements to toll accounts are handled.

WAVY News was the first to report about the new settlement hotline, and the staggering number of customers — over 34,000 — who owe at least $1,000 in unpaid tolls and fees to ERC. Andy Fox went to where the rubber hits the road to settle bills and get E-ZPasses in the hands of more drivers.

WAVY.com Toll Coverage

The ERC customer service center is located on Port Centre Parkway, near the WAVY-TV 10 station.

On Friday, 28 of 36 phone lines include the designated settlement hotline. It doesn’t take long to find Mr. Rayford, who answers phone at the center. WAVY is not allowed to show his face, or report his full name, and we can’t record the voice of the customers due to privacy issues.

Rayford tells the caller, “There are 151 unpaid tolls on the account, and the current balance is $3,606.25… 151 tolls dating back to September 2014… We will be able to settle the account for the $2,200 maximum.”

There is a sign in the customer service center reminding the service representatives that the maximum charge for first time delinquent tolls is $2,200, which is now state law.

The caller has an inactive E-ZPass and is going through the tunnels with pay-by-plate, which is the most expensive way to go through the tunnels. Rayford asks the caller, “Have you guys made any communication with E-ZPass to rectify that so you can be charged at the lower rate E-ZPass rather than the more expensive plate rate?” Her answer to that will highlight a problem ERC needs to tackle.

The caller tells Rayford she’s already paid $1,795, but he can’t verify it.

Richard Gabris, who is the one week on the job as Director of Customer Service, tells Rayford, “Get the account taken care of,  identify the payment and get the customer on the E-ZPass.”

Rayford would later confirm the amount sent by the caller.

Rayford hangs up, investigates and calls her back — completely dedicated to fixing her account. He would call her back twice, and the call takes a total of 20 minutes. Technically she owes a total of $5,402.12. She has already paid the $1,795. That leaves her with $3,600, but the state ordered maximum is $2,200.

“I will take the $2,200 and subtract her $1,795 that she has already paid, and that will leave her with a current balance of $404.13.”

The caller agrees to pay that, and says she will call back to give her payment. Another settlement hotline success. Now, thousands more to go.

During the call, a revealing trend is discovered. Rayford reminds the caller, “E-ZPass is always going to be for future trips, and not what has happened in the past.”

This is important because the customer claims she did not add money to her E-ZPass account because she thought it would pay only her past bill, and why should she add more to the E-ZPass if it’s going towards paying off thousands in debt?

“What I learned was a gem of information that will help us move people to E-ZPass. We’ve got to educate people that E-ZPass transactions are going forward and it doesn’t matter what your account is going backwards,” Shucet said.

The bottom line: When you add money to the E-ZPass, that goes for trips to come. The past bill needs to be paid, but you are not penalized by putting more money on the E-ZPass. This is another example on Shucet’s relentless strategy to put more E-ZPasses in vehicles, replacing the more expensive way to go: pay-by-plates.