Life made a misery after IBM took over congestion charge

         
“Since IBM took over the ‘auto-pay’ system my life has been a misery” –  Bryan Thompson, Operations Director at car rental company Miles & Miles.

There are plans to extend the problematic auto-pay congestion charge system from fleet to individual vehicle owners.

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Kable reports that Transport for London  is having problems running the congestion charge for some fleet owners. 

This is despite Transport for London’s telling Fleet News in February 2010 that all the problems are “all now virtually resolved”.

Also in February 2010, TfL told me that “Congestion Charge systems are now working well”, though it added that it was “keen to improve the usability of the system for these [fleet] operators”.

Little or no compensation for congestion charge system problems

It’s the fleet owners who are still having problems, including being fined incorrectly for fleet vehicles that have been registered, then lost, in the congestion charge systems.  The problems have caused an administrative burden on fleet owners for which they’ll receive little or no compensation.

The history of the difficulties – which have occurred since IBM took over the systems from Capita in 2009 – is characterised by TfL statements every few weeks saying that all the problems are virtually resolved.  

Even now TfL is, in its PR statements, giving the impression that the problems are minor.

Car rental company Miles & Miles, which spends around £5,000 a monthon the congestion charge, told Kable that it is a laborioustask to add or remove a car from a list on the system, and somecars disappear altogether.

Miles & Miles was charged £8,000 soon after IBM took over thesystems, when the congestion charge fees should have been around £4,000.The firm said itwas only recently reimbursed by TfL. One of its cars was chargedentering the congestion zone, when it should have been exempt as it was ahybrid model.

The website is “designed by a two-year-old”

BryanThompson, operations director at Miles & Miles told Kable: “Thetrouble is the website is designed by a two year old. It’s slow,it’s not user-friendly, it’s dreadful. I could do better myself.”

He suggested that IBM “should buy the old site from Capita” as therewere “no problems” with the former system.

Thompson added: “Since IBM took over the auto pay system my life hasbeen a misery.”

IBM declined to comment. When asked whether it has been incontact with TfL about the system problems, a spokesperson said: “Wellno, because that would imply that there are problems.”

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The auto-pay system enables fleets, lease companies andvehicle rental suppliers to receive a £1 discount off the £8 congestioncharge if they register their vehicles online so they are automaticallycharged when they enter central London at specified times. IBMintroduced a new online system in November 2009.

IBM woncongestion charge contract with “economically advantageous” bid

IBMhad originally won the congestion charge contract from Capita in 2007.Transport for London said at that time IBM had submitted an “economically advantageous” bid to beat Capita which had run congestion chargesince 2002. 

In October 2009 TfL transferred data on the LondonCongestion Charge from Capita’s systems to IBM’s. IBM’s takeoverincluded an upgrade of the computer systems, which was designed to saveTfL £200m over the life of its business plan.

At first sight, thetransfer went well but it soon became apparent that some registeredusers were unable to pay their charges. A TfL spokeswoman said at thetime that the problem was sorted out by that afternoon.

“Nobody[in the group affected] will be penalised. Another reason it is not abig issue is that charges can be paid the day after. We apologise forthe problems that some customers may have experienced in accessing theCongestion Charge online payment accounts. These were resolved and allof the new IBM systems are up and running as they should be.”
 
WhatTfL told me about the congestion charge problems in February 2010

InFebruary 2010 when I put some questions about the system problems toTfL, this was its reassuring reply:

“Transport forLondon’s handover of the running of the Congestion Charge scheme fromCapita to IBM was one of the UK’s largest IT projects of 2009.

“Millionsof data files were successfully transferred between Capita and IBM’ssystems over the first weekend of November and the new systemsintroduced will enable the introduction of new technology to improveefficiencies, including CC Auto Pay, an automated account system thatwill be in place in 2010 to make it easier for customers to pay theircharge.

“As can be reasonably expected with a project of thissize, there were initially some technical glitches but staff at TfL andthe IBM offices in Coventry worked hard to ensure customers could stillpay their charge or access information while the glitches were beingrectified.

“Throughout this time the scheme continued to operateas it should. The problems related to the online payment systems butcustomers were always able to pay their charge via the call centre,mobile and at any one of the 7000 ‘epay’ terminals at shops and petrolstations across London.

“There were some delays with theprocessing of discount applications, however this was largely due to thenational postal strike that impacted on the delivery of mail betweenTfL and customers.

“TfL uses the www.cclondon.com website andrecorded messages on the Congestion Charge customer services telephonehelpline, where relevant and possible, to communicate with customers.

“Atthe beginning of November when we were experiencing the initialtechnical glitches, messages were regularly posted on the website andtelephone helpline to update customers and let them know of thealternative ways they could pay the charge.

“In addition,messages to customers were communicated via the majority of key Londonmedia outlets, including broadcast, radio and print media.

“Nocustomers were financially affected by the system problems. Anycustomers who felt they had been wrongly charged were, and still are,able to contact us to have the charge reviewed and if appropriate anypayments refunded.

 “There has been no financial cost to TfL orLondoners to sort these ‘teething problems’. Any issues have beenresolved within the framework of the contract that TfL has with IBM,which makes clear that IBM is responsible for delivering the service.

“Theinitial system problems have been rectified and the Congestion Chargesystems are now working well. We are however aware of specific concernsfrom fleet customers and we are keen to improve the usability of thesystem for these operators. More broadly, we are working with IBM toreview lessons learned and this is ongoing.

“Notwithstanding theissues in the first weeks of the IBM contract, we are confident that IBMwill deliver substantial improvements in the running of the CongestionCharge scheme, including the introduction of automated payment laterthis year.”

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85% of fleet managers whoanswered a survey said they’d had problems

In February 2010 a FleetNews poll found that 85% of fleet managers who responded said theyhad experienced problems with the new system introduced by IBM after ittookover running the congestion charge from Capita.

“Fleets have beenplagued by issues ranging from overcharging to havingvehicles taken off the system by mistake,” said Fleet News.

TfLapologised. “We are very sorry. We have had some initial teethingproblems,” said a spokesman at the time.  “However, they are all nowvirtuallyresolved.”

The 5,400 fleets who have over 21,000 vehicles registered under theschemepay £7-a-day congestion charge per vehicle.

Iain Packman, fleetadministration officer for Carleton Furniture Group,said: “The direct debit is not collected, vehicles are charged twice onsame dayand vehicles are not renewed.”

One of the most serious issues wasvehicles being taken off the system withoutfleet managers’ knowledge leading to fines being issued for non-payment.

Onefleet manager told Fleet News: “The system expired an active vehiclethen finedus for 22 days entry in to zone”

The TfL spokesman said: “We havehad some issue with data that was migrated across from Capita -there was a field that wasn’t populated so those vehicles came off theiraccounts. We have been able to identify those accounts and anybody whohas received aPCN incorrectly – that PCN is now being cancelled.”

He added:”When the systems were put together the statements did not show the dateoftravel, but rather a processing date, so it would appear that vehicleswerebeing overcharged. Now fleets will see the date of travel. This was anerror andwe apologise for this.”

But Yvonne Hannan, fleet managers atT&P Fire Ltdsaid: “I was sent a fine for not paying the congestion charge, but when Ichecked the date on the company’s credit card statement, a payment hadbeenmade. How many people have charged with fines when they should not havebeen notrealised and paid it?”

Administrative burdens

Another fleet manager bemoaned the lengthyprocess of registering vehicles,especially hire and lease vehicles.

TfL blamed “overzealous” newstaff for demanding paper trail evidence beforeregistering fleet vehicles.

“We haven’t introduced extra checks -the processes have always been there,”said the TfL spokesman. “But some of the new staff interpreted someinstructions tooliterally.”

This resulted in some fleets being told that they hadto send in allpaperwork for their vehicles – including lease agreements.

AnnDukanovic fleet manager Kaba Door Systems spoke of administrativeburdens created by the new system: “Invoicing has been atrocious… Torunmonth-end accounts you have to laboriously type in every line off theinvoice.”

David Carter, fleet controller at Saint Gobain BuildingDistribution, said hewas unable to download a workable spreadsheet. “It’s all in a pdf file -we needa .csv or .xlsl file to reconcile our account and recharge internally.This isdefinitely a step backwards.”

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Why does TfL keepsaying the problems are minor?

When Fleet News asked TfLabout its failure to live up to its promise to have all the issuesresolved by February, it replied: “A lot of work was done to address theissues affecting fleet accounts that were drawn to our attention…andthese have all been resolved. However, on examination a number ofadditional issues requiring work were identified.

“Progress hasbeen made in resolving these secondary issues, but owing to the natureof the fleets it will take time for this to be reflected in individual’saccounts.”

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IBM and leasing association’s “heated meeting”

BVRLA– the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association – has met TfLand IBM in what the association described as a “very heated meeting”.

TheBVRLA said it regarded the current situation as “grossly unacceptable”after some of its members complained that they are still owed tens ofthousands of pounds in refunds of fines that should never have beenissued.

Boris Johnson to extend the problematic fleetcongestion charge system

Fleet News also reports that TfLplans to extend the same auto-pay system that is causing so manyproblems for fleets to all motorists who register.

Links:

TfL admits autopay problems – Kable, June 2010

Moving technologies – London reconnections

IBM undercuts Capita to win Congestion Charge – CIO

Congestion charge mayhem continues for fleets – Fleet News May 2010

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