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Pikepass errors stir fine mess in Oklahoma

Pikepass errors stir fine mess in Oklahoma

Turnpike Agency will stop issuing automated violations until tag records match up

Published: June 3, 2009

The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority will stop issuing automatic violations for failure to pay tolls until the agency can match its records with Tax Commission records new license plate numbers.

Until Tuesday, the violations were automatically generated by a computer system that manages the toll system. Errors occurred when a Pikepass was misread and the computer could not match the photographed license plate number to an active Pikepass account.

Nearly half of all vehicles registered in Oklahoma have new plates and possibly new tag numbers since the state unveiled new license plates in January. This means Pikepass customers in good standing may be getting $25 violation notices because their account information does not match their new vehicle tag numbers, said Jack Damrill, spokesman for the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.

In the past month, the Turnpike Authority has mailed 90,179 violation notices, about six times more than what the authority sends out in a typical month, Damrill said. The number includes motorists whose Pikepasses were not correctly scanned at a toll plaza and their license plate information is out of date. That number also includes people who traveled on the state’s tollways without paying for their trip.

Since November, the Tax Commission and the Turnpike Authority have been working on a computer program that would list old tag numbers with corresponding new license plate numbers. Employee turnover and compatibility problems between the two agency computer systems has slowed the process.

"It kind of caught us by surprise,” said Darwin Stewart, assistant director of Pikepass operations. "We are working that direction and hope to get it resolved.”

Stewart said the program is expected to be complete by the end of the month.

What’s the problem?
A Pikepass can be misread when the pass is not properly affixed under the rearview mirror inside the front windshield of a vehicle. The fines were forgiven as soon as customers contacted the authority with the updated information. Stewart said violation notices were sent to addresses, but tracking accounts with addresses is not a reliable way to ensure someone has an account.

While the Turnpike Authority works to correct the process, officials are urging customers to update their information. Most Oklahoma vehicles with new plates have new plate numbers unless people paid an extra $17 to keep their old plate number, said Paula Ross, spokeswoman for the state Tax Commission.

"We’re getting an awful lot of accounts updated through this process,” Stewart said. "We want our customers to be proactive and manage their accounts. Not just now, but next year, or when they get a new car. It still puts the impetus on customers to maintain correct records.”

Customers flood phonelines
The Turnpike Authority is getting 600 more calls a day than it can handle. Some of those calls are coming from people who have received violation notices, others are calling about quarterly Pikepass statements that were sent out this month. There are nearly 800,000 Pikepasses in use by about 300,000 customers, Damrill said.

Phone lines and staff have been added to help alleviate the problem, but it could take several weeks to resolve the violation notices.

"We do ask they wait to call us,” Damrill said. "They’re not going to get through right away. It would be like trying to call a radio station to win a free trip to Europe and you have to be the ninth caller.”

Customers who don’t resolve their violations could face additional hassles. Violations that are not paid or resolved after the second notice could result in a lien against an owner’s registration, Damrill said. The fine would have to be paid before a registration could be renewed.

A second notice is usually issued after 45 days. If the notice is not taken care of, a lien is placed on the vehicle’s registration and the account is turned over to collections.

"People don’t have to call us today, just give us a few days and we’ll be able to take care of them,” Damrill said.

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