Fleets, lease companies and vehicle rental suppliers continue to experience major problems with a new computer system they are forced to use if they regularly send vehicles into the London congestion zone.
Fleet operators are required to register their vehicles if they wish to avail of a £1 a day discount for each vehicle they send into central London.
However, since IBM introduced a new computer system in November 2009, many have experienced problems ranging from overcharging and receiving wrongly-issued fines to having vehicles taken off the system by mistake.
Transport for London (TfL) and IBM, which won the contract to operate the congestion charge from the end of 2009, made promises to fleets that these “teething problems” would be resolved by the end of February.
However, this has not happened. “I have just been charged for a vehicle that we removed from the system in January,” said David Ensom from the Niscayah Group.
“But the biggest problem is that of overcharging, we are owed around £3,000, I have been told that someone is manually going through all of the statements and we should expect a refund on our next statement. This really is not good enough.”
A London-based rental company called the system a “complete disaster”. Miles & Miles, which spends £5,000 a month on the congestion charge, said it is not receiving data on which vehicles have entered the zone.
It is therefore unable to charge its customers.
“All our vehicles should be registered on the system,” said company spokesman Bryan Thompson.
“But I have had no details since May 5 on what cars have been in and out of the congestion zone. When I get in touch with them, all they can say is that they recognise there is a problem…but they can’t say when it will be fixed.
“This happened before in November and we received 41 PCNs , and after going through a lengthy 3-stage complaints procedure to get the PCNs removed, we were given just £50 compensation. Now we are facing the same problem again. It’s a complete disaster.”
When Fleet News highlighted TfL’s failure to live up to its promise to have all the issues resolved by February, it said: "A lot of work was done to address the issues affecting fleet accounts that were drawn to our attention…and these have all been resolved. However, on examination a number of additional issues requiring work were identified.
“Progress has been made in resolving these secondary issues, but owing to the nature of the fleets it will take time for this to be reflected in individual’s accounts."
The 5,400 fleets who have over 21,000 vehicles registered under the scheme pay £7 – rather than the usual £8 – a day congestion charge per vehicle.
One of the most serious issues is vehicles being taken off the system without fleet managers’ knowledge leading to fines being issued for non-payment.
Leasing companies are often the first to receive wrongly-issued fines on behalf of their fleet customers and they are also up in arms about the ongoing problems.
Their representative association, the BVRLA, has met with TfL and IBM to try to resolve the issue in what it described as a “very heated meeting”.
The BVRLA said it regarded the current situation as “grossly unacceptable” after some of its members complained that they are still owed tens of thousands of pounds in refunds of fines that should never have been issued.
Despite TfL’s assurances that it is working with IBM it will not give a timescale of when it expects to resolve the problems. Therefore fleets are warned to expect the problems to continue.
"TfL apologises to the fleet managers who have experienced difficulties with the operation their accounts in the last few months. TfL has worked to resolve these issues and the vast majority of accounts are now operating well,” said a spokesman on behalf of IBM and TfL.
TfL has issued an additional statement following news that it plans to increase the congestion charge to £10 a day per vehicle, scrap the Western Extension and reduce the number of vehicles for a fleet to qualify.
If the plans come to fruition, TfL also plans to use the same Auto Pay system that is causing so many problems for fleets to manage the accounts of all motorists who register.
It said to Fleet News: "Any proposed changes to the Congestion Charge scheme are subject to an ongoing public consultation. The consultation began on Monday (24 May) and will close on Monday 2 August.
"Transport for London (TfL) will then prepare a report to the Mayor of London incorporating comments received during the consultation. The Mayor will then make a decision as to whether or not he wishes to go ahead with the proposals and confirm the Variation Orders, with or without modifications.
"A lot of work was done to address the issues affecting fleet accounts, that were drawn to our attention by the trade, and these have all been resolved. However, on examination the original issues a number of additional issues requiring work were identified.
“Progress has been made in resolving these secondary issues, but owing to the nature of the fleets it will take time for this to be reflected in individuals accounts.
“TfL will not be satisfied until the fleet solution has proven itself over a number of months. We are always keen to work with fleet customers and value their feedback."
In relation to news that the auto pay is likely to be rolled out to private users next year, TfL said:
“The delivery of the Congestion Charging Auto Pay scheme will be subject to an extensive and rigorous testing regime which will include addressing any lessons learnt from the issues which have affected some fleet customers.”