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Overwhelming Response

A promotional campaign tied to the start of tolling on the Sakonnet River Bridge was a huge success - and then some. But the 23,000 orders for discounted EZ Pass transponder caused a huge backlog. This week, Jim Hummel talks with one of the buyers who turned to us when he couldn't get through to the Rhode Island Bridge and Turnpike Authority to ask about shipping delays. We have his story and an explanation for the delays.

SCRIPT:

Radio Ad: ``There's an easy way to make sure you pay the lowest tolls in Rhode Island.''

You probably have heard this ad on the radio over the past month.

Radio ad: ``Beginning June 25th, they're discounting transponders to just $10.''

Half-price - plus another $10 credit toward the tolls - making the purchase virtually free. It was a promotional offer geared toward the start of the highly-publicized tolling on the new Sakonnet River Bridge.

And it was an offer that Lou Najjar couldn't pass up.

Najjar: ``I was taking advantage of the ad on the radio to get them less than half price what you normally pay for them - and plus you get a $10 credit in your account towards the tolls - so it was a sweet deal and I took advantage of it.''

Najjar - who lives in Cumberland - wasn't really concerned about the Sakonnet River Bridge tolls. He wanted a transponder because he was driving to Florida to visit family.

Najjar: It was about 2 1/2 weeks later. I didn't receive anything in the mail and I tried to call and the phone would just ring and ring. I sent a couple of emails and there was no replies''

Darlington: `` Clearly we should have answered the phone. Clearly we should have gotten back to him.''

Rhode Island Bridge and Turnpike Authority Chairman David Darlington said the advertising campaign was a huge success - and then some.

Darlington: ``There was some pent up demand for folks that wanted to get  EZ Pass anyway and probably thought there would be some sort of arrangement and offer when new tolling came on line. It's an excuse but the excuse is we were a little overwhelmed by what happened. We've added and added and added; and it's grown and grown and grown so we haven't been able to quite keep up.''

Darlington says the authority distributed 23,000 transponders in a five-week period.

Ten thousand orders came in the last three days when they announced the discount program was ending earlier this month.

That means the authority has now sold 170,000 transponders since EZ Pass program began in late 2006.

Darlington: ``I think a lot of folks sitting on the  sidelines saying I still have time, I still have time, really came out and jammed up the AAA locations... and certainly jammed up the center here.''

Hummel: ``But you knew they had gotten your application, how?''

Najjar: ``As soon as I submitted the application online there was an acknowledgment that they received it and at the same time it was immediately charged to my credit card.''

Hummel: ``So credit card that you know had gotten through? So a couple of weeks go by and you're doing everything yo should be doing: email, phoning?

Najjar: ``Right.''

Hummel: ``And how are you feeling at that point?''

Najjar: ``Kind of misled. There wasn't anything on their website that indicated that there was a delay or any way to find out what the holdup was.''

Darlington: ``I apologize to anybody that's tried to reach us in the last couple of weeks and been unable to. We're prepared to handle the volumes that come in from this point forward. ''

In fact, Darlington said the authority hired additional people to process and package the transponders, which are being shipped from the authority's headquarters in Jamestown. They also brought in extra personnel to a call center to answers questions, and explain delays.

Najjar: ``I understand there's probably going to be a delay. I understand there's a lot of people that are waiting for their transponders that ordered at the same time I did. What's frustrating is not getting an answer. If there was any way they could have communicated to me - or anybody else for that matter- it would be a 20-30 day wait before getting them, I'd completely understood. But no phone calls, no response through emails.''

Darlington: ``I think most people don't think government really cares about what's going on. So I think we start at a disadvantage so we try to go further over the top to make sure folks understand that we get it. I'm a Rhode islander.  I have the same sense of that when I deal with government, so when it happens here it sort of lights everybody's hair on fire.  Because we know we have to do a better job than that.''

Najjar received his transponder shortly after we inquired about it - and a week before his trip to Florida.

And the ad campaign - it ended earlier this month.

In Jamestown, Jim Hummel for The Hummel Report.