Transportation Authority Customer Service to Go Offline on Tuesday

The Ft. McHenry toll plaza along Interstate 95 in Baltimore. WTOP photo.

Motorists who use Maryland toll facilities will not be able to reach the Maryland Transportation Authority’s customer service department during a nine-day period that begins on Tuesday.

The authority, which owns and operates the state’s toll-financed bridges and tunnels, is taking its website and customer service phone line down because it is switching vendors.

After the transition, customers will find an improved website and the authority will save $15 million per year in operating costs, MdTA Executive Director James F. Ports Jr. said.

“I just didn’t feel like the website was user-friendly,” he said. “The new website will just literally blow your mind.”

People who hold E-ZPass transponders are being urged to replenish their accounts before the customer service center goes offline.

Account-holders will be unable to reach a customer services representative by phone from Tuesday, April 20 through April 28. The website will be down as well, and the in-person customer service centers will be closed.

The MdTA’s customer service number, 1-888-321-6824, will remain the same after the transition.

The current web site, ezpassmd.com, will be replaced with DriveEzMD.com.

The changeover occurs during a surge in customer service calls and significant changes to the state’s toll collections process.

The MdTA “paused” mailing “Notices of Toll Due” (NOTD) to motorists who used a toll facility without an E-ZPass transponder from March and October of last year. The move was made to reduce interaction between staff and the public, and provide economic relief to people impacted by the pandemic, the authority said in an “open letter” to account-holders.

But those notices have resumed.

“As NOTD mailings have resumed, we’re now experiencing unprecedented volumes of customer-service requests,” the letter states.

“Today, we ask for your patience and understanding. We know you are trying to reach us, and to say that call volumes are extremely high is an understatement. Rest assured that contested mail delivery delays and the time it takes for our team to research your request will NOT be held against you,” the letter adds.

The authority said it is not referring unpaid tolling accounts to the its Central Collections Unit or to the Motor Vehicle Administration for registration flagging or suspension.

“People will be still responsible for paying the tolls, and we’re asking customers to replenish their E-ZPass accounts,” Ports said.

No auto-replenishments will occur while the system is down. When the new system goes live next week, all queued auto-replenishments will kick in before the authority processes tolls incurred during the down time, officials said.

Maryland went to an all-electronic toll system — no cash payments allowed — last year, for public health reasons.

Motorists who want to pay the lowest toll must have an E-ZPass transponder.

People can opt to have a credit card on file with the state (what the MdTA calls “pay-by-plate”) if they don’t want to use E-ZPass, or they can use “video tolling,” where the authority mails a bill to a vehicle’s owner after it is photographed going past a toll gantry.

The MdTA has used New Jersey-based Conduent for both ends of the toll process — the equipment that detects vehicles going through a toll facility and the processing of payments — for roughly 15 years, according to Ports.

He said that by separating the two functions into separate contracts, the authority was able to increase competition among potential bidders and negotiate a better deal.

Kapsch, an Austrian firm, will take over the “front end” function and Nashville-based TransCore will handle payments after the changeover.

Ports said the agency expects motorists will initially have a difficult time reaching a customer service representative when the new system goes live on April 29 — and he is asking for the public’s patience.

“When you’re moving this much information from one system to another, there will be some glitches and some things we need to fix,” he said. “And the vendor will do that.”

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Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.