Saturday, December 28, 2013

Nurse the Hate: The Illinois Tollway Fiasco

On June 10th the Whiskey Wagon drove through a toll booth in the Greater Chicago area and our trusty EZ Pass did not register.  A week later I received in the mail a tersely worded notice that I owed the State of Illinois and the Greater Illinois Tollway Authority $6.00 for the unpaid toll and an additional $80 for daring to drive through the automated toll booth without an EZ Pass.  Not wanting to be on the bad side of the People of Illinois, I immediately called the 800 number and paid the $6 toll on my MasterCard.  As we had an EZ Pass in good standing, I wanted to clear up the additional $80 fine as this was clearly a mechanical malfunction of some kind.  After all, I’m just a good citizen.

I was told by the good people representing the State of Illinois and Greater Illinois Tollway Authority that I would need to fill out an “Affidavit of Nonliability for Toll” form, and have it in to them within 14 days or my fine would escalate to $280.  I filled out the three page form providing a variety of codes, secret numbers, and account information.  Additionally I photocopied my actual EZ Pass transponder. Surely, this will set me back on the right side of the law.

When I called back, I was told that I did not provide the correct information.  But, how was this possible?  I filled out all the forms you requested.  I was then informed that the Ohio EZ Pass system and Illinois I-Pass system don’t “talk” to each other, and I would need to provide a document proving that my EZ Pass was active on that fateful day when I drove through the gate in the Greater Chicago Area.  I was told I could access this on the EZ Pass website.  Oh?  No problem.  I will email that to you.  What is your email address?  Oh?  You don’t have an email address, but I can fax it to you?  Alright…  I will head back to 1993 and do just that.  Are you sure you don't have an email address of a direct line where I can call you back personally?  I don't want this to become so kind of fiasco...  No?  OK.  I'll get the information from the EZ Pass website like you asked.

As I logged onto the EZ Pass website, I discovered I would need my account name and password.  Having no previous need to ever log onto this website, I had no idea of either of these pieces of information.  The good news was that I could get my password emailed to me after I logged in my account name.  The bad news was that after multiple attempts, I couldn’t figure out what my account name was…  I tried my email address, name, full name, screen names… Nothing.  The only way I could proceed on this website was by logging in my account number.  I looked at the transponder and typed in the number on the side of the plastic device.  No dice.  I tried again; convinced I must have made a mistake.  No sir.  You would think that my account number would be listed on the device, but it’s not.  Of course I could have simply looked at my bill, but I selected the “paperless” option when entering the program years earlier, convinced my selection was brimming with the good karma of being environmentally conscious.  Now, I could not look at my bill to get my account number because I did not have a bill to get the account number from.  Follow?  I was a dog chasing his own tail.

This led me to have no other choice but to call the Ohio EZ Pass office.  Whoa be to those that must make this effort.  The phone rings and rings.  No one answers.  The call shifts from mechanized voice to mechanized voice.  No one ever answers.  I tried in the morning.  I tried in the afternoon.  I tried early.  I tried late.  I made seventeen (17) attempts before finally getting someone on the phone.  I would estimate on each attempt I spent 15-20 minutes of being on hold with the automated message blandly speaking meaningless options to me before maddeningly having the system disconnect me.  For those of you that didn’t do the quick math, that’s an estimated 5.5 hours on hold.  At last I reached an actual human being.  He had a weary voice, no doubt from being screamed at by annoyed callers day after day after day.  He gave me my account number.  I moved ahead with great confidence.

Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I printed each page of the website.  I wanted to make sure that there was undeniable proof that I had an active EZ Pass account, and the unpaid toll incident was simple mechanical failure, not a criminal attempt to evade providing The People of Illinois their well earned $6.00 fee.  I bundled up all the documents, including another copy of the precious “Affidavit of Non Liability for Toll” form and sent it via US Mail as per their instructions.  On the form I was reassured that the Good People of Illinois would review this information, and decide if in fact I was still responsible for this fine.  It had been a long hard road, but I was pleased that at least this would be resolved.

Several weeks later I received a letter from my now good pen pals at the Illinois Tollway Authority.  I opened it and blinked as I tried to comprehend the content of the form letter.  “Based on the information provided, we have reviewed your case and decided that you owe the $280 fine.  Enclose a check. I called their helpful toll free number.    "But… but… but… I provided all the information you asked for…  I need to provide you with what?  You didn't ask me for that?  I printed out every screen on the website.  You need what type of form?  But, there’s no such thing on the Ohio EZ Pass website!  How can I provide you with a form that doesn’t exist?  And why is it $280 now?  What?  Because I didn’t get the information to you in two weeks?  But how could I?  It took 17 calls to get my account number!  The information isn't even available where you sent me!  I don’t understand!  My EZ Pass paid you the day before and later that same day from the same unit.  Does it make any sense that my account wasn’t active?  Hello?  I need to provide what form?  But there’s no such form!   I can’t have been the first person ever from Ohio to have this issue!" 

Almost totally defeated, I realized I would have to somehow get through to the Ohio EZ Pass office so they could provide me with a form that did not exist.  This was not the type of situation one likes to find oneself in when dealing with government.  This task proved time consuming.  It went as smoothly as last time, no one ever answering the phone.  It seemed like an impossible dream.  I would chip away at it with the occasional call.  No matter what extension was entered, no one answered.  There was no email address.  It was like trying to get a return call from Santa Claus.  Meanwhile, the Good People of Illinois had decided to send my account to a collection agency after I told them “no matter what, I am never paying you this fine for something I didn’t do.  It is never going to happen.  Do you understand?”.  I may have been a bit hasty in my proclamation.  They were going to have their revenge.

After that unfortunate exchange with The Greater Illinois Tollway Authority, I would receive strange voicemails from “The Law Offices of Blah, Blah, and Blah” and was told to call back and speak only to Mr. Scott.  When I would call back and ask to speak with Mr. Scott, an operator named almost always Shaniqua or Dezmont would tell me that Mr. Scott wasn’t there.  I would insist that the message was quite clear I was only supposed to speak with Mr. Scott, and then she would assure me that Mr. Scott wanted me to talk to her instead.  I would then always ask why the message said I was only supposed to speak with Mr. Scott, and wonder if Mr. Scott knew that his calls were being intercepted.  This generally confused Shaniqua and she would start to say things like “Sir!  Sir!” over and over again.  I began to question if Mr. Scott even existed.  "Sir, I can assure you there is a Mr. Scott."  Well, why can't I talk to him then?  He is the one that left me a message and insisted I speak with him.  Why are you preventing me with speaking with Mr. Scott?  "Sir!  Sir!"  We mutually made little progress in resolving this dispute…

 At last I was able to reach someone from the Ohio EZ Pass office.  I explained to them what I needed, and they sent me a complete print off of my account history, indisputably showing that the EZ Pass was active at the time of the alleged crime.  At last, the Good People from the State of Illinois would know that I acted with no malice as I drove around the Greater Chicago area with my trusty EZ Pass.  I placed the document in my car, ready to once again send it off to the shadowy post office box.  This is when I made another crucial error.  I had every intention of making a copy of this document.  I really did.  However, I found myself at the post office, another fresh harassing call from the Law Office of Blah Blah Blah sitting in my voicemail.  I decided to send the documents off without making a copy, thinking “What are the odds of them losing it?”.

It turns out that I should’ve bet the odds.  Three weeks later, I called to follow up.  I spoke with a woman named J’nise (pronounced “Jah-neese”) who told me they had not received the documents.  I confirmed the mailing address.  She informed me I could fax them to her.  I said I had sent the only copy, and would have to descend into the Hell of contacting EZ Pass yet again to attempt to procure another copy of these precious documents.  Was she sure they were not there; sitting in an inbox ignored somewhere?  “Nah… I dunno about dat.  But you could fax dem here.”  My blood pressure began to spike.  I read her the tracking number of the envelope I had sent them.  I asked J’Nise how she would recommend faxing a document that was no longer in my possession, but instead somewhere at her office.  J’Nise did not know and was completely unable to grasp the concept of not being able to fax something that you no longer had.  We had reached yet another stalemate.

I repeated my efforts in getting a copy of the elusive proof from Ohio EZ Pass.  It was a long road.  It was a hard road.  The Ohio EZ Pass office assured me they would send me another copy.  Many conversations were also had with the offices of Mr. Scott, though Mr. Scott continued to remain well behind the scenes, pulling the strings to this never-ending beauracratic nightmare.  “Why can’t I speak with Mr. Scott?  He keeps leaving me messages to talk only to him, and then when I call you won’t let me talk to him.  Have you done something with Mr. Scott?  Is there even a Mr. Scott at all?  Who are you people?”  These were not the conversations the phone representatives of The Law Offices of Blah Blah Blah were used to having with their prey.  My continued alarm concerning the wellbeing of Mr. Scott made little impact with the increasingly frustrated African American women on the other side of the line. 

At last I received the document that was sure to free me from this inexorable situation.  I made numerous copies, sending them via fax and registered mail to Mr. Scott and his people as well as the Good People from the Illinois Tollway.  The calls from the Law Office of Blah Blah Blah stopped as they “needed to confer with the Illinois Tollway”.  On Christmas Eve, late in the afternoon I received a call from the Illinois Tollway.  “Mr. Miller… This is Kathryn from the Illinois Tollway.  We have received your documents regarding your violation from June 10th.  I have been advised to offer you a settlement on this matter, and am prepared to take your credit card for $20.”

Um… what?  You want me to settle on a fine that I have just proven to you that I never should have been assessed in the first place?

“Sir!  Sir!  You were past our deadline to pay this fine, so we now have assessed you a late fee.”

Are you out of your fucking mind?  Why would I pay you $20 for not paying a fine that I was never guilty of in the first place? 

“Sir!  Sir!  We were very clear in our first mailing that this fine needed to be paid in the first week, or the fine would escalate.”

This is when I began to attempt to reason my way through this.  Each point I made was generally answered in the same way, with urgent calls of “Sir! Sir!” like I was the crazy one.  No matter what I said, they just went back to the script.  How could I have not had an active EZ Pass when you can clearly see on the document you asked me to provide that I did indeed have an active pass?  “Sir!  Sir!  If you had an active pass then the transponder signal would have been picked up at the time.”  So my transponder broke somewhere between the two other tolls I paid you on the same day?  “Sir!  Sir!  I can’t explain how that happened, but we were very clear on the form we sent you regarding payment of this fine.”  So are you telling me that there has never been an issue with equipment on your end?  “Sir!  Sir!  This equipment is checked all the time!”  So you are saying that it isn’t possible that the technical issue could have been yours?  “Sir!  Sir! You are just trying to get me to say something you want me to say and I am not going to do that.”  So, it’s not possible… “Sir!  I am ready to take your MasterCard number!”  Look, if you just say to me that this is nothing more than a shakedown, I’ll pay you.  But that’s the deal.  You have to admit that you are just shaking me down for money and this has nothing to do with my pass being active.  “Sir!  Sir!  I am not going to say that!”  Well, I’m not going to pay you then.  What is your name?  “Kathryn N.”  Kathryn N?  What are you, an R&B star?  “Sir!  We are not allowed to give our last names!”  OK, then from now on you have to call me Greg M.  Ms. N, may I speak with your supervisor?  “Sir!  She is just going to tell you the same thing I am telling you!”  Ms. N… Are you suggesting that you can read the mind of your supervisor?  Are you suggesting that each of you is nothing but an automaton which is incapable of independent thought?  Is this what you are suggesting?  “Sir! I am going to terminate this call!  Do you wish to make a payment?”  Let me ask you… Do you think I wish to make a payment?  Are you under the impression that is where this conversation has been headed Ms. N?  I wish to speak with your supervisor… Can I speak with her please?  “Sir!  She is not available, but I can leave her a message to call you when she is available.”

Two days later, I received a call from “Jackie”.  Jackie read back the lengthy history of this dispute and confirmed that I would have to pay her $20.  She left an 800 number as a call back.  I called the number and got Shanquelle on the phone.  Hello, I am returning Jackie’s call from five minutes ago.  “Uh… What is your account number?”  I don’t know, but can I speak with Jackie?  She just left me a message to call her at this number just moments ago.  “Uhhhh… What is your license plate number?”  Why would that be relevant?  Can I speak with Jackie please?  “…….hold on……”  I wait eight minutes.  “I can’t transfer the call and I don’t know who Jackie is.”  Can you give me her direct line?  “Uhhhh…. Hold on…”   I wait another ten minutes.  “This is Leslie.”  Hello Leslie.  I’m holding for Jackie.  “Can I help you?” Sure.  You could get Jackie for me.  “Well, I’m a supervisor too.”  Yes, but I am supposed to speak with Jackie.  "Can I help you?"  Why do you keep ignoring what I say to you?  Is it crazy for me to ask for who called me as per my request?  "I can help you."  OK.  I’m confused by a message Jackie left me about me being responsible for a late fee on a fine that I never should have been assessed in the first place...

I then listened to this woman read the entire history of this episode back to me, including a number of times in which I was “difficult”.  That point was inarguable, as I had certainly not been very helpful in their efforts to squeeze cash from me.  I suggested to Leslie that perhaps why I was difficult had something to do with the fact that I was never guilty of the alleged crime in the first place.  That had now become a moot point.  In fact, it wasn't even worth discussing on their end.  It was no longer about the crime, but the length of time that had elapsed as I waded through the layers of government.  Frankly, I thought I should have received a medal by this time for getting so far in proving my innocence.
“Sir, regardless if you had an active EZ Pass account or not, the length of time spent to determine this exceeded our two week window so you owe the fine.”  I responded.  I am not sure how to compete with that logic.  It makes absolutely no sense to me and I will not pay you.  This will never happen.  Who else can I talk to?

I was given new contact information for someone else in the apparently bottomless pool of defenders of the Greater Illinois Tollway Authority.  I realize I am but one man and I am greatly outgunned.  There is almost no chance that I will be able to find anyone that has even a lick of sense.  I am doomed.  I will fight on however.  I will never pay them their shakedown money.  I don’t care if my credit is destroyed and I am left living in a cardboard box by the freeway.  I don’t care if I have to dance for nickles on the dock just to survive.  It has become a quest.  I will never give up.

I will clear my name.


At December 28, 2013 at 9:37:00 AM EST , Blogger Walter Zoomie said...

You shoulda told these assholes to fuck off five minutes into this entire mess.

You are right. It IS a shakedown, and if you pay them you are an idiot.

At December 28, 2013 at 11:08:00 AM EST , Blogger Greg Miller said...

I will never pay. Ever.

At December 28, 2013 at 8:07:00 PM EST , Blogger Unknown said...

This sounds like the first act of an Uwe Boll film.

At December 29, 2013 at 11:50:00 AM EST , Blogger Greg Miller said...

What an amazingly oblique yet awesome reference!

At December 29, 2013 at 6:12:00 PM EST , Blogger Unknown said...

After the (expected) failure of 'Assault on Wall Street', Herr Boll may be in need of fresh material. You two should link up during the next European tour.

At December 31, 2013 at 6:25:00 PM EST , Blogger Larry Nelson said...

These same people will be running your health care in the near future.

At May 3, 2015 at 9:45:00 AM EDT , Blogger Apostle Green said...

These people are a bunch of douchebags. As one of the Good Citizens of the Fine State of Illinois and a frequent Patron of our Illinois Tollway system, I can attest that if any consumer product were as 'reliable' as the I-Pass system, its maker would have long ago had its headquarters burned down by an angry mob.


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