LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Cheri Hinton made phone calls, wrote letters and sent emails to RiverLink customer service agents earlier this year in an effort to get a billing dispute resolved.
Their response, she said: Nothing.
Hinton had been regularly using the newly tolled Interstate 65 bridges on her commute between her Sellersburg, Ind., home and her job at a law firm in Louisville’s NuLu district.
But, she told RiverLink officials, she wasn’t getting a discounted toll rate despite providing proof that she’d made the required number of frequent crossings – 40 in a calendar month. She believed she had been charged $300 more than she actually owed.
Hinton sent another letter in May. But this time, records show, she provided a copy to the offices of Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear and Indiana Attorney General Curtis T. Hill Jr.
“I think it helped,” she said in an interview. “Because the next time we got on the phone, they brought up the fact that, ‘We see that you’ve contacted the Attorney General over this.’”
Ultimately, she said, the matter was fixed.
Frustrated by the nearly year-old RiverLink toll network, some drivers have bypassed customer service channels altogether and taken their complaints directly to the states’ top lawyers.
In all, 120 complaints have been filed with the attorneys general’s offices, according to documents obtained through public records requests. The records represent the only public accounting that is available, since the private companies that operate the toll network are not subject to open records laws.
The number of grievances climbed this fall. The 15 in Kentucky in October, for instance, were the most of any month since tolling began late last year, while the 11 in Indiana were the highest since June.
But the overall complaints are a “very small fraction” when compared with more than 27.5 million bridge crossings, said Mindy Peterson, spokeswoman for RiverLink, the cashless toll network overseen by the two states and operated by Kapsch TrafficCom of Austria.
Even so, she said a “top-to-bottom” overview of the system now is underway, with a goal of drivers getting their problems resolved without having to contact the two states’ attorneys general.
“We do want RiverLink to be as efficient and user-friendly as possible,” she said.
Hill’s office in Indiana has seen slightly more complaints – 66 – compared with 53 lodged with Beshear’s Kentucky office, according to a WDRB News analysis of documents provided by the states.
Beshear said in an interview that his office has received “a significant number of complaints” that deal with billing and other “legitimate concerns.”
“We know that for every one complaint we do receive, there are a number we don’t,” he said.
Beshear’s office routinely sends the complaints to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. Hill’s office also has discussed some of its complaints with the Indiana Department of Transportation, spokesman Bill McCleery said.
He declined to comment in detail because details of the Indiana investigations are confidential.
In response to an open records request, Beshear’s office provided more than 200 pages of complaints that reveal a snapshot of the issues that have roiled drivers. Among those sent recently:
- A Tennessee woman wrote October 12 that she had paid every bill and proven she did, only to be told she has a $25 late fee. “It does not look good for your state,” she said. “I have spent many hours on this ridiculous situation.”
- A Wisconsin man complained October 20 that he received an incorrect bill for $24 based on a photo of a tractor-trailer’s license plate. “The charges are fraudulent,” he wrote. “We do not own a semi as depicted in the picture. We own a van and a Chevy truck. We have not been in Indiana, Kentucky or Ohio in 2017.”
- On October 24, a Kentucky man complained that he has two vehicles that have crossed the toll bridges several times a month but has only gotten two invoices. Like other drivers that month, he received an erroneous second invoice with a late fee. “It is embarrassing that we do not hold a vendor to a higher standard who is processing millions of dollars of transactions on our behalf,” he wrote.
RiverLink’s Peterson said customer service remains a “top priority,” but she noted that long wait times occurred in October, when the states announced they were planning to begin freezing vehicle registrations for drivers with unpaid tolls.
A new class of 20 agents is in training to start working at RiverLink’s Austin, Texas call center, she said. If all 20 graduate, that would bring the total number of employees answering calls to 82, or about 10 more than previous highs.
Peterson said drivers should try contacting RiverLink directly before reaching out to the attorneys general.
“That should not be the case,” she said, “and we don’t want anyone to feel that way.”