Bamboozled January 18, 2016: Waiting for an answer

Every once in a while something goes kablooey with an E-ZPass transponder.

For Ralph Vuolo, kablooey is an understatement.

The Keyport man received 25 violation notices from the agency over several months.

If that wasn’t bad enough, every time he tried to correct the situation in writing with E-ZPass, he was ignored.

None of his letters, sent return receipt requested, were answered. Faxes were not answered. Emails didn’t get attention to his problem, either.

Vuolo even received several notices threatening a suspension of his registration.

“It seems all of a sudden I’m getting possible suspension notices but not one response to any of my complaint letters,” Vuolo said. “The silly part is that when I send in the violation response, the toll amount is deducted from my account. Nobody at E-ZPass finds it unusual to have 25 violations.”

Let’s turn back the clock so you can join Vuolo on this misadventure.

Vuolo received occasional violations notices as early as 2008, but his didn’t give them much thought.

Each time he answered a violation, it showed the toll fee was charged to his account — his account was always in good standing — and the administrative fee was waived.

Violation notices ramped up in 2014 and 2015, and Vuolo would answer each notice. The toll fee would be assessed and the administrative fee was waived, again and again. And again.

Other oddities happened with Vuolo’s transponder.

On June 24, 2015, his statement was charged twice for going through different exits on the New Jersey Turnpike — on the exact same date at the exact same time.

Finally, after getting several violation notices in July 2015, Vuolo went beyond answering the violation notices and he wrote his first complaint letter.

boozle-EZPassViolations-9455 Desantis.JPG
Ralph Vuolo stands with his car. He’s been trying to get E-ZPass to respond to his complaints about violation notices.
Russ DeSantis/for NJ Advance Media

The July 27, 2015 letter, sent certified mail, return receipt requested, noted the 10 violations he had received so far, plus the double charge from June, and Vuolo asked for a replacement transponder.

Vuolo suggested that rather than send so many violation notices, E-ZPass should simply — as a saver of both money and time — deduct the amount due from his account, given that E-ZPass knows it was his car and what charge was due.

“When a so-called violation occurs due to E-ZPass not reading a license plate properly, it’s not a violation,” Vuolo wrote. “It’s a malfunction and maybe there should be an apology letter instead of a violation.”

He didn’t get an apology.

He didn’t get a response at all.

Before you ask why he didn’t call, Vuolo said he kept calls to a minimum so he could have a paper trail.

And boy, did he ever need a paper trail.

On July 31, Vuolo received two more violation notices.

Then Aug. 13, he noticed an “unpaid toll” light when he drove the Turnpike, so he expected yet another violation notice.

On Aug. 17, Vuolo sent another letter, repeating what he said in the first letter, adding the new violation notices and again requesting a new transponder.

“The state should fix the malfunctioning intermittent toll booth plate reading unit or deduct the error amount automatically from my account,” he wrote. “I believe if someone was paying attention, 15 false violations would set off some bells as to a problem with either the toll booth’s plate reader or my vehicle unit.”

No one responded to that letter.

The violation notices continued, with a new one arriving on Aug. 27.

Vuolo wrote his third letter, again explaining the problem and asking for a new transponder.

No response.

There was a new violation for Sept. 10. And another for Sept. 12.

On Oct. 5, Vuolo wrote again, and again, his letter went unanswered.

He called E-ZPass to make sure he was writing to the correct address, and he was given a different one.

Vuolo wrote to this new address on Oct. 22.

He noted that he had sent four complaint letters to the other address, return receipt requested, and none were answered. He noted that even if he was writing to the wrong address within the organization, his letters should have been forwarded to the correct department.

“It appears that E-ZPass has a completely different approach, which is signing for letters and then ignoring them,” Vuolo wrote. “I’m quite sure if I missed a violations payment I would be notified immediately.”

He included copies of his previous letters and once again requested a new transponder.

That letter, too, was ignored.

Then he received another violation notice. And another.

Vuolo contacted the United States Postal Service to make sure the letters were received.

It turns out the return receipt for his Oct. 22 letter was never returned.

Vuolo wrote to E-ZPass again on Nov. 10, this time via fax, which E-ZPass said would be answered in 10 days.

He asked, no — he begged — for an answer.

But alas, no response. Not even after the 10-day mark.

In the meantime, more violation notices arrived.

He tried faxing again on Nov. 30.

“What steps must I take to get a response to a complaint?” he asked.

And… you guessed it. No one answered.

Vuolo tried to get an answer online on Dec. 4.

The response?

“We cannot process your request at this time,” an E-ZPass email response said.

Vuolo wrote again, but this time via a paper letter.

“It appears that E-ZPass is bordering on misfeasance or nonfeasance,” he wrote. “I’m now up to 25 violations with my account in good standing due to your faulty equipment, questionable charges and incompetent customer service center.”

And on Dec. 7, he received another violation notice — but no answer to his letters.

Instead, it seemed, E-ZPass took the violations to the next level.

Vuolo received a notice saying his registration could be suspended related to an unanswered Oct. 12 violation. But Vuolo was able to show he paid that fee on Oct. 30, and he wrote another complaint letter — return receipt requested.

Vuolo said he checked in with the post office on that day, finding another return receipt that was never returned.

He then received another suspension warning about an Oct. 14 violation.

That, Vuolo’s records show, was paid on Oct. 31.

So Vuolo wrote to E-ZPass again on Dec. 14, detailing his long saga of wrongful violations and unanswered communications.

“It is apparent that E-ZPass is a three-ring circus with no ringleader,” he wrote.

Then he reached out to Bamboozled.

PAYING THE TOLL

We reviewed a two-inch stack that included violation notices, letters to E-ZPass, fax confirmations and postal receipts.

While we reviewed the records, Vuolo received a new transponder from E-ZPass.

He tried it out on Dec. 29, and again, the tool booth said “toll unpaid,” so that made for violation notice No. 26.

We asked the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which handles Vuolo’s E-ZPass, to review the customer’s records.

Vuolo got a call on Jan. 7 from a customer service rep who said her office reviewed his complaints “with a fine-toothed comb.”

“They will reimburse me for the June 25 toll snafu, delete some of the recent violations and will be sending me an new internal transponder,” Vuolo said.

He said the rep believed the positioning of Vuolo’s transponder may have been the reason the transponder didn’t register.

The rep also told him E-ZPass was reviewing some internal procedures, and gave Vuolo a direct number to call her should another problem arise.

Then Bamboozled got a call.

“We let Mr. Vuolo down,” spokesman Tom Feeney said. “He had every right to expect a response to his letters, and we failed to provide one.”

Feeney said at the direction of the Turnpike Authority, Xerox — which handles E-ZPass — conducted a review to see what went wrong. They reported back that Mr. Voulo’s letters were processed incorrectly after they were scanned into the system, Feeney said.

“They’ve changed their procedure and are providing additional training to the employees involved to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Feeney said.

We’re glad this was corrected, but it’s a shame it took so long.

We’re looking forward to hearing that things stay corrected. If not, we’ll let you know what Vuolo has to report.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.

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