City Slams DWP Over Customer Call Wait Times, Billing Errors

The city of Los Angeles is joining many of its residents in one task: Waiting on the Department of Water and Power.

The City Council's Energy and Environmental Committee pressed DWP representatives Wednesday on their response to waves of complaints of billing errors and interminably long waits on the telephone when customers call for help.

In a bit of political theater, Councilman Tom LaBonge called the DWP's Customer Service Hotline during the hearing. He was put on hold while he began asking what the agency was planning to do to reduce wait times.

"We have 37 new department employees that will start on the phones this Friday. It's a huge increase for us and should have a significant impact on our call wait times," said DWP Senior Assistant General Manager Randy Howard.

Howard says an acceptable wait time is 3 minutes.

LaBonge got the word over the phone that his expected wait time would be 57 minutes.

DWP customers have been waiting a lot longer than that.

Problems began surfacing about a year ago when the utility changed its billing practices, relying less on estimated water and power usage, and more on actual meter readings. For many customers, this meant huge jumps in their monthly bills.

Customers have told NBC4 they have received bills that amounted to thousands of dollars, when their usual bills were less than $100.00. And they say when they called DWP for an explanation, they were left on hold for more than an hour.

Earlier this year, DWP officials promised to address the concerns and rebuild trust with customers. But Councilman Bob Blumenfield says he's not satisfied.

"I want to hear that the problem is solved and that all the billing issues are done and that there's no wait time on the phones," Blumenfield said.

But he says he hasn't heard that yet.

The City Council, along with customers, will simply have to wait longer. The committee gave DWP another 30 days before the utility has to return to City Hall with answers.

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