Tag Archives | west link toll bridge

NRA using their technology to force drivers use their toll service?

Since the advent of the barrier free tolling, one or two readers of the Value Ireland Blog have voiced their suspicions that the NRA sensors at the M50 toll plaza are selectively not identifying cars using non-eflow tags in order to snuff out competition to the eflow tags themselves.

Take one reader, for example, who has an eazypass tag. For 6 times out of 10 trips through the M50 toll area, their eazypass tag wasn’t recognised by the eflow equipment, and 6 non-payment lettera were sent out. The other 4 times, the eazypass tag was recognised successfully and money was deducted from the eazypass account. On some days, the tag was recognised in the morning, but not in the evening. On other occasions, it was recognised going southbound on one day, but not the next day. So, the tag works – and the tag position is correct within the car, yet more than half the time, they’re getting the non-payment letters.

As some of you may know, I like a conspiracy theory as much as the next person, maybe more than most, but I think this deserves to be looked at. Basically the NRA are working both sides of this M50 tolling fiasco. I can imagine that the temptation to playing both sides of the game and gaining an unfair advantage might be hard to ignore.

The NRA, through their company eflow, are providing the hardware and software required to manage the scanning and billing of cars and lorrys that pass through their toll area. Therefore, all toll tag and service providers must interact with eflow to ensure that their tags are suitable to be used, that their customers are identified going through the toll area, and that the correct companies are notified of charges incurred by their customers for such trips across the M50.

Yet eflow also provides a service in competition to all of those 3rd party toll tag service providers. eflow provides it’s own tag service, as well as providing the number recognition and pay as you go service.

Hypothetically then, consider if the part of eflow responsible for identifying tags and number plates of cars sets their systems up to only sometimes identify all of the 3rd party tags of the eflow tag competitors. By doing this, many more non-eflow tag holders would get the toll overdue paper work and notification of non-payment of toll letters than really should do.

And hypothetically, every time a driver who has a non-eflow tag gets such an unwarranted letter, they’re then forced to ring the part of eflow responsible for billing to get the mess sorted out. And, hypothetically, no matter what the user says to eflow about their competitor tag being set up correctly, and working some of the time but not all of the time, the eflow customer service people maintain that the problem isn’t on their side, but on the side of the competitor tag provider.

And then, hypothetically, the 3rd party tag provider such as eazypass is now so overrun with calls from irate customers who are getting non-payment notifications through no fault of their own that they don’t even answer calls to their own customer service number.

How long then, hypothetically, before the user of the competitor tag decides that it’s not actually worth their while suffering all the grief they’re getting from having to deal with both their own tag service provider and with eflow customer service all the time and can’t be bothered with all the hassle – especially having to follow up regularly to ensure they’re not stung for the extra non-payment of toll fines?

How long, hypothetically then, before the user of the M50 who originally signed up with an eflow tag competitor decides to make their lives easier and just signs up for the eflow tag itself and cut their losses and save themselves the hassle?

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Government selected software companies – once is unfortunate, twice is careless

Frank Spencer in the BBC sit-com is described on Wikipedia as a “well-meaning and optimistic, but naive, clueless, accident-prone tank top-wearing character”. Apart from the tank-top wearing part, this description could very well be used to describe our Department of Transport – and in particular when it comes to their handling of the M50 tolling on the West Link toll bridge.
After the expensive decision to get rid of NTR (for what reason – certainly not to benefit consumers), we now appear to be moving to the next illfounded decision through the Departments selection of Payzone as the new operators of the barrier free tolling.
In a scenario that has uncomfortably similar overtones to what happened the suppliers of the infamous PPARS system for the health service (iSoft), it appears that the board and chairman of Payzone are attempting to oust the incumbent Chief Executive and Chief Financial Officer of the company. As of yesterday, it took these two company officers court injunctions in order to prevent themselves being kicked out of the company (sub required).
According to that article (Cardpoint and Alphyra together make up the Payzone company):

It is understood that Cardpoint had experienced difficult trading in October and
November while Alphyra’s business grew.
Mr Nagle (Chief Executive) is believed to have wanted to issue a trading statement to the stock market in advance of an investor roadshow this week but the board decided against this move.

In January 2006, the iSoft company itself was actually forced to issue profit warnings itelf, some time after the initial discovery of the difficulties with the PPARS application within the HSE (but not related). The Comptroller and Auditor General, for example, issued its “Value for Money” report in December 2005.
So, we’re seeing problems now with the new suppliers of the barrier free tolling of the M50 only days after the contract was announced. Will Payzone follow the path of iSoft – since that initial profit warning, iSoft virtually imploded after it was forced to change its accountancy practices:

It had to adjust the accounts for earlier years plunging the company into a
£344m loss for the year ended April 2006. An internal investigation identified
accounting irregularities in 2004 and 2005.

The iSoft company was eventually taken over in June of last year in an attempt to put all it’s problems behind it, including an investigation of it’s accountancy practices by the UK Financial Regulator, the Financial Services Authority.
In the end of it all, we won’t be getting PPARS because the HSE has determined that it’s not worth continuing – even though it still cost us another €11m in 2007.
Last night, by coincidence, I was speaking to the representative of a relatively small international software supplier who bemoaned the fact that despite the fact that they provided what has been universally acknowledged as a superior product compared to their competitors, the small size of his company prevented them from getting larger contracts with large financial and government organisations.
Their difficulty was that becase it was a part of due dilligence prior to signing software provision contracts that these larger organisations will assess the software company balance sheet, future prospects, ongoing performance, business continuity, and many other items to get an idea of the software company. In many cases, smaller software suppliers will not come out well in such analyses compared to larger more established ones. In some cases this may be justified, and others it may not.
However, given what’s happened/happening with two software suppliers selected by Irish govermental departments in the past few years, one wonders what kind of due dilligence they’re carrying out at all to ensure that our money isn’t wasted on these high profile and expensive projects.
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Will anyone notice the West Link toll rise?

I had intended to make this observation last weekend after reading this BreakingNews.ie story on Friday.

Motorists using the West-Link bridge on the M50 in Dublin are to be hit with higher toll charges from next January.

Tariffs are set to rise by 10% to €2, that’s up from the current charge of €1.90.

Relates back to my post in March this year wondering about how many people actually already pay the €2 instead of the €1.90 at the moment instead of lining up to get their 10c change.

The 10% increase mentioned by the journalist in my quote from the article above should actually read 5.26% – thanks Stephen.

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