L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and the newly appointed general manager of the city’s Department of Water and Power sat down with the utility's top customers today to talk about ongoing problems with DWP's new billing system.
Six months after switching to a new customer billing system, DWP continues to field a flood of complaint calls from customers who’ve been billed incorrect amounts or not billed at all. DWP’s website calculates the snafu cost the utility nearly $230 million in unpaid bills as of the last week of February.
Large businesss customers affected by the glitches, including hotels, a recycling facility, and Cedars-Sinai hospital, clustered around a conference table on either side of Mayor Garcetti. One man complained of a dense, multi-page bill with 90 line items and slid it down to the mayor.
“This, you’re right, is gobbledygook,” the mayor said, flipping through the bill.
Garcetti placed the efforts to improve customer relations at DWP squarely within his “benchmarking” program, which aims to improve agencies citywide. “I’m determined not just to fix what’s wrong but to go a step beyond that and make this good again,” he said. “To be an example for public integrity, an example for transparency.”
Garcetti and DWP’s new general manager, Marcie Edwards, who noted she has been on the job nine days, said the city is adding call center staffers to cut down on wait times of half hour or more.
Edwards says she’s making a “punch list” of fixes for the billing snafus, some of which come from an old system she compared to the Flintstones’ "rock car with little stone wheels."
“It’s not an acceptable business practice,” Edwards said. “It absolutely isn’t. Don’t think for a second that we’re going to explain or try to justify it.”
Edwards and Garcetti stressed fixing the customer service system will happen before DWP asks for rate hikes.
The mayor added that better and clearer bills for businesses and households could help energy consumers keep costs low by helping them better understand when and why they were paying peak rates for power use.
“I want us to be able to empower both residential and commercial customers to be able to make good decisions about conservation,” he said. “Cause one of the biggest things we can do is even as rates rise bring down the cost of your bills.”
Edwards promised significant improvement in months – and said emergency customer service representatives would be trained and on the job to answer calls within days.