PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Elizabeth River Crossings is working once again to gain back trust with another big move on late fees. Instead of a cost for each late toll, how about one flat fee instead?
ERC’s new CEO Philip Shucet — with just over two months on the job — made it clear Friday that skyrocketing late fees for each toll is impeding the collection of tolls all together. Eighty percent of money owed to ERC is fees. Only 20 percent is actual tolls. Shucet admits that is a shocking statistic.
“It is stunning, and it is an unintended consequence of business practices for the invoices,” Shucet said.
To change this, Shucet is implementing a new 30-day monthly bill.
“They won’t get two, three, four or sometimes five invoices a month. Every 30 days, they will get one statement for all transactions for the prior month.”
Shucet is also capping the late fee at $25.
“If for some reason you don’t pay your 30-day statement, your next 30-day statement will have a flat $25 late fee on it.”
No more late fee of $5 after 30 days, then $10 after 60 days. Those escalating charges created the problems Shucet is now trying to fix. He admits people aren’t paying the tolls due to the maddening fees.
“We have 20,000 settlement offers on the street to fix who had accounts greater than $2,200. We are not getting a lot of feedback from those offers.”
It’s not actually “Let’s Make a Deal,” but it’s close.
“I am not Monte Hall [who first hosted ‘Let’s Make a Deal’],” Shucet said. “We are not trying to make a deal, but if you have an outstanding account, and you don’t know what to do, or how to settle it, we are going to help you settle it.”
Back in March, in a side-by-side comparison, 10 On Your Side looked at toll rates for a standard 40 tolls in a month at ERC Tunnels and the Jordan Bridge. Shucet was watching.
“The report was an undeniable example of how our fees per transaction were causing unpaid tolls to ramp up,” the CEO of ERC said.
The standard rate during rush hour at both facilities is an average $200 for both people, but the final balance going into collections for ERC was $1,098; for the Jordan Bridge, that cost was $300. ERC is 366 percent higher than the Jordan Bridge and that is for one month of tolls.
“The significance from your report was seeing it side by side and hearing it from our customers,” Shucet added.
Responding to that, Shucet is going to do what the Jordan Bridge is doing: Charging only a $25 late fee.
“Under no circumstances are you going to ever see more that a $25 late fee for an unpaid 30-day statement.”
Shucet also suggested that he’s not pleased with his collection agency in Texas. He could be looking for others to do collections, and some of the companies may be local.
10 On Your Side has reported for months on cases of customers reporting issues with ERC and excessive fines for toll violations.
ERC recently issued hundreds of refunds to customers who have received fines exceeding $1,100 and $2,000. The refunds came following a passionate announcement of relief from these fines from Gov. Terry McAuliffe and transportation officials in March. McAuliffe said in the announcement that ERC would be switching to an invoice approach that is similar to what is used on the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge.
Customers with questions about the new fee structure, settlements or toll bills can call the ERC Customer Care Center toll-free at 855-378-7623.
WATCH: ERC addresses changes to their billing and late fees. App users can tune in here.