LADWP apologizes for billing problems, launches web page to track fixes

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.
Michael Chen/flickr Creative Commons

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When the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power switched to a new customer billing system in September, officials were unprepared for the problems that accompanied the overhaul. They were even less prepared for the onslaught of calls that came in from people who were missing bills or who had been overcharged. Many complained about extensive wait times - some as long as two hours. 

To address the issue, DWP  on Monday launched  a new web page with information on the status of efforts to fix ongoing issues. Utility officials said in a press release that about 60,000 customers are continue to experience problems related to their bills. 

The page includes a "Mayor's Dashboard," a report that includes updates on the number of complaint calls, wait times to speaking with DWP representatives and revenue uncollected because of delayed bills. As of Monday, the weekly report -- which is shared with Mayor Eric Garcetti -- stated that performance metrics were "unacceptable." The report also showed that the utility is currently $300 million short of projected revenue. 

The city's rate payer advocate said he approved of the new information page.

"I think the most important thing is they’ve gone much more transparent on what people should do and how they’re improving," said Fred Pickel, executive director of the Office of Public Accountability. 

Pickel said that DWP's decision to switch from a 40-year-old system was the right one. 

“The switch-over from the old system was necessary, because they were almost to the point of having to hold séances with former COBOL programmers who had passed on to understand what was needed," Pickel said. "Any of these major information system switch-overs have lots of problems. This is no exception, and they’re working through that process.”

Officials for the utility also released an open letter to customers on Monday, apologizing for the problems the switch-over has caused.

"We did not adequately prepare for the extent of the problems we experienced, and we made matters worse by not making certain that when those affected had problems, we were able to take their calls and emails and respond in a timely manner. Many have waited on hold for an excessively long time, some even as long as two hours. This is completely unacceptable." 

In the letter, DWP officials pointed to steps the utility has taken to accommodate the increased load of calls, including hiring additional staff to handle calls.