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Couple claims E-ZPass Flex system along I-66 outside the Beltway repeatedly charging them for tolls they shouldn't have to pay

Operator says "our process is highly unlikely to be inaccurate as often as is claimed"

CHANTILLY, Va. — It was designed as a hassle-free way to beat the Northern Virginia traffic. But a Prince William County family says the new E-ZPass Flex system hasn’t been too easy for them.

The couple claims the system overcharges them for tolls time after time.

“So right now, we're at about $700 in charges,” said Shawn Kiernan, who said he keeps a spreadsheet of the tolls he and his wife have been charged, and which ones have been reversed by the company.

“I have spoken to the same, you know, E-ZPass representative multiple times,” said Kiernan’s wife, Jill. “So, I almost say hey, how you doing?”

Back in December the Virginia Department of Transportation announced the new program along Interstate 66 Outside the Beltway, and it was supposed to save some drivers time and money.

“We live out in Bristow, Virginia,” Shawn Kiernan said. “And so my wife drives in with the kids to daycare every day to Chantilly. So, it was to our advantage when they put the hot lanes in because according to them, we could drive HOV 3 and get it for free.”

HOV 3 allows vehicle’s with three people in them to hop into HOV 3 lanes, for free. All a driver needs is a special transponder called E-ZPass Flex.

The Kiernan’s say they spend about an hour on the phone every week trying to reverse HOV tolls they say they shouldn’t have been charged, noting that E-ZPass has been good about reversing mistaken charges.

Despite that, a spokesperson representing Express Mobility Partners, the private company which contracts with VDOT to operate the E-ZPass Express Outside the Beltway system, disputed the Kiernan’s were being overcharged as often as the couple claims.

“While we continue to work to improve our system, the fact is our process is highly unlikely to be inaccurate as often as is claimed,” wrote Jason Rufner of the Casey Group in an email to WUSA9. “While no system is absolutely perfect, our technology plus our triple-blind human review has provided a high level of accuracy so far, and it does recognize both small children and infant car seats.”

“Our team strives to give the benefit of the doubt to our customers whenever we can, and we always aim to side with our customers as much as possible given the available information,” Rufner wrote.

But the Kiernan’s stand by their story.

In fact, Shawn Keirnan told us E-ZPass employees told they weren’t the only ones having this issue, telling WUSA9 when he went into the E-ZPass office in Manassas to complain he was told “they are having issues with their cameras picking up passengers and they are working to find a solution to the issue.”

The Kiernan’s theory is that the HOV scanners aren’t picking up the couple’s two small children, including an infant in a car seat.

Now they’re worried about other Northern Virginia drivers who might not be catching mischarges.

“It's the folks that don't have the time to take out of their busy work day to like really go line by line through their account,” Jill Kiernan said.

In a statement the Virginia Department of Transportation told WUSA9 “VDOT is aware there have been complaints by some users of the new 66 Express Lanes Outside the Beltway who indicated discrepancies about being charged tolls while traveling as High Occupancy Vehicles.

Jason Rufner seemed to dispute VDOT’s statement as well, emailing WUSA9 they have “received only a few complaints about allegedly inaccurate toll charges.”

That’s certainly not what the Kiernan’s say they’re hearing when they call to get refunds.

“They say that they do get a few phone calls that they're helping people with this,” she said. “So, I'm not the only one.”

Rufner said “The Kiernan’s reported experience is not the typical case” and that the couple “have been advised on how to configure their E-ZPass Flex transponder for HOV travel – a major point of emphasis as we continue to educate drivers about this still relatively new roadway.”

Jill Kiernan said that hasn’t stopped the overcharges either.

“E-ZPass has recommended that I flick it on and off to make sure the system is reset but it does not seem to be helping,” she said.

“I submitted a request for a refund just last week,” said Shawn Kiernan during his interview with WUSA9 in July.

If you have experienced similar issues, WUSA9 wants to hear from you. Email Chief Investigative Reporter Eric Flack at eflack@wusa9.com or DM him at @EricFlackTV on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

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