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January 20th, 2010

The Illinois Tollway Has a Lousy Website.

They do. Here’s why.

I use IPASS, the wee transponder which not only lets me go through toll plazas at full speed but also tracks the date, time, and location of every toll I’ve ever paid. This is worth the convenience… and the 50% discount I get versus using cash. I opened my account with the tollway last year with $40, which was bundled with the purchase of the transponder.

About three months ago, I got an automated email from the Tollway warning me that my IPASS balance was low. I wasn’t sure how low – the email didn’t say – so I logged in and saw that it was at about $9.50. Not too low given that most tolls I pay are 40 cents and I’m not on the tollway every day. So I just ignored it.

But the tollway didn’t. I continued to receive emails every day regarding my low balance. Every. Day. It just became noise, as you can imagine. I did check on their internet website to see if I could set the threshold to something more reasonable, such as $2. Nope. It’s $10 or nothing. So… yeah.

Last week came time for a replenishment. So I went to my account and proceeded to fill out a form for replenishment. The default amount listed is $40 which I really didn’t need. So I changed the value to $10, submitted the form and, uh, hm. An error? “Replenishment must be a dollar amount greater than or equal to 40 in $1 increments.” $40 is the minimum? I can do $41 but not $11? Come now… that’s just dumb.

In my 90 daily emails I received from the tollway, though, I was informed I could also stop by an IPASS location at a tollway oasis (not likely) or get an IPASS gift card at my local Jewel-Osco. (We’ll put aside the pure sadness of giving someone an IPASS gift card for a moment.) My lovely wife picked up just such a gift card the other day, at a more reasonable $20 amount. So far so good.

I logged into my account at the tollway website to add this gift card. Huh. No option. I can do debit or credit but… no gift card? Indeed: the back of the gift card insists I can only add value by calling their 800 number. Fine, fine.

So I do that. I call the number and press 1. Then 1 again. At this point I have to listen to a poorly-placed recording of their business hours. I figure that the automated system can help me so I opt for that.

I press another button, and another, and finally get to the point where I can add value! Hooray! But… yes, no gift card option. At all. I pressed zero, pound, asterisk, and all the keys at once to no avail.

I ended up calling the number back. This time I followed a similar tree, but before choosing the automated option I just pressed zero a few times. That worked: I was transferred to an actual person (even though their website claimed that they were closed on Martin Luther King Jr. Day). I gave her the gift card number, my transponder number, my blood type, the planned name of my first child, and my Google Account password and… just like that, I have $20 to use.

So let’s think about this for a minute. The tollway went ahead and emailed me every day to remind me of a pre-set low balance threshold that I couldn’t change. Once I did decide to give them money, I wanted to do it online and they said, “Nope, $40 or more only.” I then got a gift card (and ate the cost for gas, time to go to the store, etc.) and attempted to add that balance online. They said, “Nope, credit or debit only.” I then tried to use an automated system just so this menial task wouldn’t be routed to a live person – because you know it’s just a three field form on a screen – and they said, “Nope, credit or debit only.” I finally had to call the number, navigate a tree and talk to a person to get it done.

It’s truly a wonder that the tollway has a website at all. It’s clear it was just an add-on thing. It’s 2010, by the way, so get with it already.

Posted in Consumer Commentary

Marcus Mackey January 20, 2010, 5:44 am

Agreed 100% Paul (LTNS/talk btw). The biggest problem I’ve run into is that we have a shared iPASS in my family (4 cars) and have it set to auto-replenish. That basically means we seldom log into their website and apparently, their site deletes unused accounts based on sign-in. If you don’t log in regularly, in the 4 years or so that it takes for your charge card info. to need updating, they will have deleted your account requiring you to contact them via phone to remedy things. I’ve come to the conclusion that their website isn’t just bad… it’s downright useless and their phone service (as you’ve documented) could use some improvement as well.

Paul January 25, 2010, 12:32 pm

Once again the Ping usurps the news: in today’s “Getting Around” column in the Chicago Tribune the incessant IPASS emails were brought up:–getting-around_25-20100124,0,135671.column

The Tollway’s response?

‘”The tollway regularly hears from customers that they didn’t realize their balance was low until we notified them,” toll authority spokeswoman Joelle McGinnis said. “We certainly don’t want to see our I-PASS customers become toll violators.”

Besides, McGinnis said, e-mails are one of the least expensive methods to communicate with customers.

She suggested that Nick and other infrequent toll road users who have I-PASS might want to raise their balance above $10 to avoid the daily e-mails.’

In other words: ‘we don’t care about your time when we’re sending you email, and oh yeah, please spend at least 20 bucks.’ That last line from the article is just a slap in the face. I *know* how this works – it’s your website that’s broken.

Kelsey January 1, 2011, 5:58 am

This is the biggest intentional ‘oversight’ I’ve ever seen in my life. You have GOT to be kidding me. Why sell the d*mn cards if you really don’t want us to use them?!!!!!!

Why not just add an option on the automated system or website that says something generic like, “Other payment types” if you don’t want to promote gift cards overtly?

Idiots. That’s exactly why I will continue to only buy $20 gift cards and talk to one of the ‘robots’ to add it. You are not going to force me to give you permission to charge my credit card and spend more than I need to.

Whatever. Typical. Corporate. B.S.

AJ May 9, 2011, 12:52 am

So, just got the gift card. I, too, received the low balance e-mail, and observed it’s more cost friendly reccommendation of stopping by my neighborhood Jewel-Osco and get a pre-paid $20 gift card. I, too, hit the same wall as described here on this page which I found after hitting the wall and googling the problem. Interesting to observe that it’s 1.4 years after this article was posted and this functionality still is lacking. If anyone’s interested in creating an online petition about it (I was going to until I observed the signature requirments) please feel free to use this:

“We, the undersigned, petition the State of Illinois and any partner(s) it may have in the ownership, maintenance, and/or or other workings of, the official site of the State of Illinois Tollway System (or Illinois Tollway System, as identified on the site), and the accompanying telephone system to create functionality on the web site and/or the automated telephone system as applicable to allow for the following functions:

1. The systems allow for replenishment of i-pass accounts have a minimal value of $5.00 (as opposed to the current minimum of $40.00) inreasable through increments of $.50.
2. To be able to change the minimum value threshold that triggers the automated e-mail system to a range with a minimal value of $.40 and maximum value of $100.00 adjustable through increments of $.10 (as opposed to the current minimum of $10.00).
3. The systems to allow for the replenishment of an i-pass account through the redemption of gift cards as recommended by the automatically sent low balance e-mail.”

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