Toll Insight spoke with Eric Hunn, Vice President – Tolling, Collection, and DMV Services at Duncan Solutions.
1. Tell us about Duncan Solutions, your tolling services and solutions.
Duncan Solutions is an industry-leading partner to government agencies, providing customer service and revenue cycle management that support city parking programs and state and regional tolling agencies. Duncan’s services include Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) registered owner lookup, image review, skip tracing, invoicing and noticing, delinquent debt collection, and support for back office customer service functions. All core services have a specialized focus on “vehicle-based debt” – any transaction that initiates with the capture of a license plate. This is a unique niche due to the nuances of vehicle-based transaction processing, which carries inherent challenges such as sale of vehicles, stolen vehicles, plate misidentifications, and difficulty gaining access to each discrete DMV database. Our goal is to help tolling agencies generate revenue and reduce leakage, all while delivering exceptional customer service to motorists who often may be confused or unfamiliar with the inner workings of a tolling program.
2. Tell us about your role at Duncan and your career journey to date.
I have been working with Duncan for 11 years and oversee the company’s tolling line of business. That includes business development, industry expertise, contract management, and operational performance for the tolling services associated with our portfolio of contracts. We work with about 50 tolling agencies across the country. My entire career has been spent in government outsourcing and debt collection, working for several well-known industry service providers. During the past 31 years, I have personally worked with 115 government agencies to support violation processing, collection, and customer service functions.
3. Covid-19 has had a major impact on the tolling industry’s revenues but also our customers and their ability to pay outstanding debt. Tell us first about the impacts you have seen since the start of the pandemic.
The early 2020 impacts were obviously a reduction in traffic volume and resulting revenue. As the year went on, some agencies initiated or expedited a transition to All-Electronic Tolling (AET), often for safety reasons to protect staff and motorists. With those changes quickly came a need for new business rules and processes to support back office operations and public education to roadway users. Customers often take some time to learn about and adjust to changes such as the lack of a cash payment option and receiving toll bills by mail, leading early on to increases in violations and unpaid tolls. We recommend training toll staff and collection agencies before the implementation of any new AET infrastructure, so from day one they can anticipate and respond to customer inquiries.
We also have seen more customers suffering financial hardship because of the pandemic. Many toll agencies took a variety of measures to provide flexibility and customer accommodation, including temporarily suspending late fees, deciding not to escalate accounts to collections, offering a one-time amnesty on fee amounts from older tolls, and allowing payment plans and settlements for larger debts. These tactics have varied by toll agency, but a common approach has been to work with consumers to help them through this trying economic time, while still trying to preserve agency revenues. Another approach has been an increased effort to convert violators to toll system customers, giving agencies a win by capturing more future toll revenue.
4. To adjust to these impacts, how have toll agencies adapted and innovated their technologies, operations and customer-facing processes? And how has Duncan had to adapt alongside?
One of the biggest challenges to an AET environment is the need to establish access to US and Canadian DMVs. Motorists who used to be cash payers must now convert to a toll-by-plate scenario, requiring the mailing of a bill or invoice. Without access to accurate registered owner information, agencies risk losing a portion of those former cash transactions to leakage. Duncan’s turnkey solutions and unparalleled DMV access allow our toll agency clients to send us a single, mixed license plate data file, which we then use to manage interfaces, process the data using various data sources for all 51 US DMVs, and optimize revenue return.
Agencies have made rapid modifications to their back office operations and training to ensure staff can properly educate motorists and resolve issues. Sometimes this has included public outreach and information campaigns to educate motorists on the transition to a new AET environment. Duncan’s staff is fully trained on the industry’s emergent best practices, and we use 360-degree feedback to ensure clear communications among toll agencies, collection agencies, and motorists.
5. Many agree that the tolling industry was already experiencing rapid changes pre-pandemic; Covid-19 has only increased the rate of that change. Where do you see the tolling industry going in the next 3-5 years, especially from the vantage point of account management, debt collection, toll operations and business process outsourcing?
The coming years will likely see a continued transition to AET environments and/or a reduction or elimination of roadside cash payment options. While this impetus started during the pandemic largely as a safety measure, agencies are quickly seeing the traffic, environmental, and financial benefits of an AET infrastructure. A toll-by-plate program will require an evolution to better account management and customer communication practices. Agencies will increase focus on public outreach and education through signage, public relations, and overall customer service center education. AET emergence will require a greater focus on revenue maximization and leakage avoidance. Agencies will further rely on proven third-party organizations for outsourcing of key services where expertise can be applied to ensure the overall success and future well-being of the tolling program. Operations jobs may shift too, with fewer toll collector positions and more back office jobs such as customer service representatives and image review staff. Finally, I would expect to see an increase in projects that utilize Public Private Partnerships (P3s) as a creative financing option for toll agencies that have budget or capital constraints.