RiverLink hosting Twitter chat Thursday to answer drivers' questions

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Officials in charge of the RiverLink toll network worked last summer to move call center operations in Texas, central Indiana and Puerto Rico to the Louisville area, according to documents WDRB News obtained through a public records request.

It’s unclear how many jobs would be created if those positions ultimately come to the area, but recent internal reports show that behind-the-scenes staff account for about 75 people.

The effort is detailed in the most recent contract between the Indiana Finance Authority and the Parsons Transportation Group, which oversees the work of toll operator Kapsch TrafficCom for Kentucky and Indiana state governments.

Under the contract’s scope of work, which is “based on discussions with the State Parties,” Parsons “assumes Louisville based (customer service center) relocation occurs July 1, 2018-through June 3, 2019.”

Despite that language, RiverLink spokeswoman Mindy Peterson insisted Wednesday that there are no active plans to move those jobs to the Louisville-Southern Indiana region.  

“There were discussions. All of those talks were very preliminary. No decisions were made,” she said in an interview. “It’s not something that moved forward. Nothing is planned in the near future.”

But, she added, state officials may revisit those plans later. “It’s certainly an option they would look at,” she said.

Asked to explain what changed in the months since the contract was signed, she said: “There have simply been other priorities during the second year of tolling that could have an immediate impact, things that would improve customer service.” Among those, she added, were a pay-by-plate online feature that debuted this year.

“There was a focus on those immediate improvements that could be instituted right away, get them in place and make a difference for customers,” Peterson said. “Some of these longer term items – and this would definitely be a longer term item – did not happen right now. So, assumptions were made that were simply taken off the plate.”

Since tolling began in late 2016, Kapsch’s Austin, Texas-based subcontractor Municipal Services Bureau has operated customer service centers for the project and processed invoices. For example, all RiverLink payments drivers send by mail go to Austin.

In bidding on the work, Kapsch proposed using the Austin center because it is “an existing facility and provides the project with both schedule and cost benefits.” But that decision had its critics.

A former Kentucky consultant on the Ohio River Bridges Project told officials in 2015 they needed to be ready for “negative public reaction to the fact that many of the Kapsch/MSB (especially well paying) jobs will be in Texas.”

That same year, some Kentucky lawmakers questioned charging area drivers to cross the Ohio River while outsourcing the collection work to Texas.

Then, after tolls started in late 2016, the Texas call center struggled to handle an influx of calls from drivers. During the first month in January, for instance, the average wait time was more than one hour.

Since then, documents show, MSB has cut down on those wait times and made other improvements in customer service.

In doing so, it has gradually moved more of the call center jobs to facilities in Puerto Rico and Muncie, Ind., where its parent company, Navient Corp., operates a collections center.

There are about 10 people who work at customer service offices in the Louisville area, reports show. One office is in downtown, while another is in Jeffersonville, Ind.

Reach reporter Marcus Green at 502-585-0825, mgreen@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2018 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.

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Marcus Green joined WDRB News in 2013 after 12 years as a staff writer at the Louisville Courier-Journal. He reports on transportation and local and state government.