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February 28, 2007

HCTRA Shoots for Perfection

HOUSTON - The Harris County Toll Road Authority is evaluating computer software and hardware used to count vehicles and axles in EZ TAG lanes because there's an extremely slight risk patrons could be charged too much or too little.

The TRA installed the Automatic Vehicle Classification (AVC) technology in August 2006. AVC is used by toll road authorities throughout the world to count the number of axles on various vehicles so appropriate charges can be made. It was sold to the TRA with a promise it would be 99.8% accurate. In fact, audits have found Harris County Toll Road Authority's does slightly better. It's 99.98% accurate.

"No technology is perfect," said director Mike Strech. "But we're dealing with other people's money and our customers deserve the best. If there is the slightest chance someone could be charged too much or that a transportation system that serves the public is not collecting what it's owed because of a glitch, we're going to fix it."

Even a miscalculation that leads to problems in 0.02% of our EZ TAG transactions is undesirable, Strech said. In about half of the small number of cases where the glitch has surfaced, customers were charged too much. In the rest, they weren't billed enough. For example, this could mean a customer was charged up to $2.75 for a $1.00 toll in a standard two-axle vehicle. They could have been under-billed in the same way.

AVC was taken offline this past Saturday while TRA officials looked for ways to improve the accuracy of the system. Testing will begin soon on tools that will be used to enhance monitoring of vehicle misclassification.

The Toll Road Authority will review all transactions since the installation of AVC and credit customers for any suspected overages due to misclassified axle counts. The TRA has no plans to collect additional money from customers who were undercharged. Those affected can expect to see the credit appear on their March end-of-month statements. And as with other statements, such as credit cards or banks accounts, EZ TAG customers are encouraged to always check their statements for errors.