Sunday, April 26, 2009

Another Rant .....

After many years working with personal injury litigation, I was convinced automated answering systems and voicemail were invented by and for the insurance industry. Now, I am convinced it was a joint effort. The insurance folks must have been joined by government bureaucrats to perfect the system. There have been a lot of hints to such a conspiracy for a while now but after my experiences this week, I am now positive the government was involved.

We have an EZ Pass. For those not located in the maze of toll highways that span the East Coast and the Upper Midwest, an EZ Pass works a lot like an automated debit card to pay tolls without needing to stop at every toll booth along the highway. (In the Illinois/Indiana area this system goes by I-Zoom.)

Basically, one establishes an EZ Pass account and receives a plastic electronic transponder that affixes to the inside of your windshield or dashboard. As you travel through a toll plaza an electronic reader receives a signal from the transponder (often at 60-70 mph) and deducts the amount of the toll from your account. When the account decreases to a certain point, it is automatically replenished by a charge to a registered credit card. The whole purpose of this system is to decrease congestion at toll booths and make such travel easier on the driver.

We’ve had no reason to ever try to contact the EZ Pass office in the four years we’ve had the transponder. That was until this week. Our credit card company had some sort of breach of data with their system and has issued new cards and account numbers. We received the new cards with the advice to change the account number with any automatic billing made to the cards. Seemed easy enough. All this could be done online. Well, that works, IF you can find your account number.

I finally decided to do business the old-fashioned way and called them on the phone. The website gives the phone number. Surprise, it is all automated. Once I managed to bypass the need for an account number, I rolled through numerous questions all answered by pressing “1” or “2”. There is no means to getting to a “live” person. I tried the obvious methods, like pushing “0” or simply not pushing anything. At some point when I made an “incorrect selection” or no selection at all, I would be disconnected. I finally attempted totally unrelated toll facility phone numbers. I reached two different live people who, after hearing what I was trying to do, connected me to the “appropriate” number. Yep, you guessed it. “Welcome to the automated EZ Pass line …” After two hours, I gave up in frustration.

Thursday morning, I set out with new resolve. I would drive to the nearest EZ Pass Service Center located across the nearest toll bridge to my home and take care of all this in person. Please note, that bridge is 19 miles away. (The good news is, we use a local decal-type pass for that bridge. The decal costs the price of one crossing and is good for unlimited crossings for an entire year. The EZ Pass would have cost the full price of a crossing with every use there.) I breezed across the bridge and zipped right into the Service Center. I told them my problem and they brought us right up on the computer. I had the transponder with me, the old credit card, the new credit card and my driver’s license for ID. Things looked promising.

Then, they realized the account is in my husband’s name. I could not make any changes. He had to do it. They could not give me the account number as my name was not on the account. I pointed out he cannot get there during their very limited M-F daytime hours. They said he should do it online. Once again, I explained he would if he had the account number. They suggested he write to the toll facility office to give them permission to deal with me on his behalf. (They do not have an email address for this purpose. One must use snail-mail.) I explained the credit card would change by Monday. They suggested he do it quickly. I was disgusted. I attempted to simply turn in the transponder. We would simply live without it. They can only accept it from him! I was a bit disturbed and left in disgust.

So, many lost hours later and a round trip of 38 miles, I still had not solved the problem. Back at home, I looked up another Service Center location that is actually closer to my husband’s office and stays open later in the evening. He would need to do this himself.That evening, I took another stab at getting to the account online. This time, I checked that we had forgotten the password and needed a new one. They advised one would be sent “shortly.” (“Shortly” is a relative term.) Our mail came very late that evening. What do you know? Our EZ Pass quarterly statement was in that mail! We now had our account number. There was also a notice that a monthly service fee of $1.50 will be charged beginning July 1st for the convenience of using the EZ Pass.

We do not use the Pass for daily commuting. Our use is occasional. There are no savings involved in using the Pass in our state although we do receive discounts on several Virginia and Delaware tolls when the Pass is used. I’m definitely questioning the convenience factor.

Tomorrow, we will be returning the EZ Pass. To be exact, The Big Guy, will be returning his EZ Pass.

Yeah, we’ll be back in that backed up traffic at most toll plazas again. Beep a “hello” should you see us there!

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