407 ETR – The Public Remains in the Dark


Consumers don’t realize how fortunate they are that Hydro One is still a public company. Ontario’s Ombudsman, André Marin, released a damning report called, “In the Dark” on the Hydro One billing fiasco that stemmed from the implementation of a new customer information system. He holds no punches when he describes the culture that exists within these monopolistic corporations. While his focus was on just this public sector corporation, make no mistake, the private sector is 10 times worse. Having to turn a profit and answer to shareholders, trumps any public interest a private corporation should have in a P3 (Public Private Partnership) relationship.

 

We can’t access 407 ETR records and investigate the way the Provincial Ombudsman has been able to with Hydro One because, the private portion of the partnership that exists, between 407 ETR and the Ministry of Transportation, runs without public scrutiny or government regulation to protect consumers.

 

People may never really know the frustrations and financial hardship consumers have had to deal with at the hands of 407 ETR’s missteps because their communication’s culture is to paint everyone with an outstanding toll bill as a toll evader. There is no public agency willing or able to shed light on this private corporation’s dealings with the public in the way the Provincial Ombudsman has with Hydro One.

 

But if we could access 407 ETR’s records for investigation, you can be guaranteed that André Marin’s report would be just as damning, if not worse.

 

One concern I have with respects to selling off 60% of Hydro One to the private sector is that the Province will set up an internal Ombudsman. With the experience the public has had with the internal Ombudsman set up for 407 ETR, it’s been nothing more than a smoke screen that abdicates accountability. The internal Ombudsman for 407 ETR merely holds to the standard of the private company’s business practices and doesn’t have the purview to investigate the way the Provincial Ombudsman does. The Province gets to say that they have nothing to do with a private corporation’ s business practices, the Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services get to argue over jurisdiction and the public gets royally screwed.

 

There is a cautionary tale here for those that support the sale of Hydro One. The kind of investigation done by the Provincial Ombudsman will NEVER happen again if Hydro One is sold to the private sector. The next time Hydro One implements a new system and consumers are getting dinged, communications will paint the consumer as someone that is trying to avoid paying their bill just like 407 ETR does with people that have huge bills, through no fault of their own. My favorite question asked by people that don’t understand 407 ETR’s billing debacle is “How does someone allow their bill get so high?” Hopefully André Marin’s report helps shed light on how a bill can get so high.

 

In 407 ETR’s 2006-2007 financial statements, they openly reveal the struggle they had with billing. 407 ETR voluntarily suspended their Plate Denial rights. The Province did an investigation and revealed some of the issues in 2004. In August of 2003, 407 ETR started to deny a limited number of people’s plates. Why only a limited number? I can speculate that they knew there could be significant changes in their reporting because they knew some of those debts were questionable, but regardless it seems to me that they were still iffy on how the public would respond to what they were doing. Turns out the public did nothing so the company got more confident in their business practices.

 

I am sure the company had full knowledge of their mistakes in 2003 but they did not notify unsuspecting consumers until 2005 and even later. Then they obstructed, obfuscated, mollified and befuddled consumers with legal lingo and blocked them from getting the documentation behind the company’s claims. They just sent out a huge bill with no details, years after a charge was to have occurred. In some cases it took 11 years for the company to provide the invoices. That still didn’t prove that actual tolls occurred. Without the pictures of the actual tolls or the electronic information, there’s really no way for consumers to ascertain whether or not the company’s claims for tolls against them are valid. To quote the Ombudsman on the Hydro One fiasco, 407 ETR displays “overconfidence in its technical superiority”.

 

It seems to me there was an opportunity for 407 ETR to have cleared things up in 2003, but didn’t. 407 ETR’s 2008-2009 financial statements reveals their excuse for this by claiming that because they did not gain access to Plate Denial until the judicial review, come November 2005 they had a “backlog” of accounts. What does Plate Denial have to do with notifying their customers that there are outstanding tolls? The company just sat on accounts for many years before they did anything. This speaks volumes as to the company’s mistakes. However, the company held consumers hostage with the threat of Plate Denial and illegal court garnishments for thousands and thousands of dollars.

 

To this day, people are still being billed by 407 ETR from this period of time they struggled with their billing. The interest and fees keep multiplying and people are languishing in Plate Denial because the public doesn’t have an Ombudsman to investigate the way Hydro One complaints have been. 407 ETR’s billing debacle remains in the dark, away from public scrutiny.

 

Hydro One has a “Retail Settlement Code” that dictates things like when billing errors occur, through no fault of the consumer, Hydro One can only make the consumer make up 2 years worth of charges. I doubt those charges are full of interest and fees and I am sure there is an amicable way to pay the charges back. When 407 ETR plays catch up on their billing mistakes, they just say you owe so pay and make no effort whatsoever to rectify the issue in an amicable way.

 

I haven’t really been able to ascertain what the standard for Hydro One’s “Retail Settlement Code” is based on however; the Electrical Safety Authority operates as an Administrative Authority under the Electricity Act 1998 and an Administrative Agreement with the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services.

 

407 ETR isn’t really different, other than it’s not a Crown Corporation. It operates under the 407 Act, the Highway Traffic Act and is subject to all the other laws of Ontario and Canada for operating their business. They have an agreement with the Ministry of Transportation, their registered lobbyist has access to Members of Provincial Parliament, Ministry of Economic Development Employment and Infrastructure, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Ministry of Transportation, Office of the Premier and Cabinet Office, Metrolinx and Ontario Infrastructure and Lands Corporation (Infrastructure Ontario).

 

What I don’t understand is why they don’t have anything to do with the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services? It only stands to reason that due to the nature of their business this should be a concern, but it isn’t. Things that make you wonder.

 

Until the Province is willing to start regulating 407 ETR, the public will remain in the dark as to the billing atrocities committed by this company.

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15 Responses to “407 ETR – The Public Remains in the Dark”

  1. J.G. says:

    Do you have any updates regarding the appeal of the class action suit? Have left several messages with the lawyers, as they requested, but have back.

    • Tammy Flores says:

      We are waiting on 2 decisions. One is an amendment from Justice Edwards at the Superior Court level re: Limitations issue and the other is the Supreme Court case re: Bankruptcy. We expect Justice Edwards revision any day now and the Supreme Court’s ruling in June. We are very close.

      • TJ says:

        Isn,t it funny that “Any day now” has been months.

        We still have no idea for sure what the judge is suppose to be considering if anything….as there has been not one news item about this.

        • Tammy Flores says:

          I hope this helps TJ, this article in Canadian Lawyer Magazine says, “The matter is not over yet. Manes says the next step is that the court has to sign an order regarding its direction to the two parties… Counsel for the 407 could not be reached for comment before posting.” It’s coming.

          At this point, the 407 and Day’s lawyers disagree on how to interpret Edward’s decision and references to “placed into plate denial” and the 407’s reference to being placed into plate denial (when plates actually expire.)

          http://www.canadianlawyermag.com/legalfeeds/2375/court-rules-there-is-a-limitation-period-for-407-etr-going-after-consumers.html

          • TJ says:

            Tammy I told you that mths ago right after the court case.
            Problem is how long does it take this stupid judge to say what he meant.
            This is just ludicrous….plain and simple.

            The ruling was in Nov…..here we are end of june…..no excuse.

          • Tammy Flores says:

            Nobody wants to be the judge that takes these crooks down it seems. When really, people would put that judge on a pedestal.

  2. TJ says:

    Tammy at least in the Supreme court ruling we as the public know what the issue is.
    In the Day case we have no idea what the amendment is that is being contemplated.
    All we have heard is that Day’s lawyers and the 407 wanted clarification as to what defines when plate denial occurs.
    That does not address the fact that the ruling on when the sol begins at plate denial is wrong and does not conform to existing case law.

    • Tammy Flores says:

      Good morning TJ. If you look at the end of Justice Edwards ruling… that’s what really bugs me. He outright says basically that it makes no sense given out of Province travelers but he was ruling that way anyway. I am sick and tired of the courts ruling in favor of this company’s rights when they are trampling on the rights of the citizenry.

  3. D Murph says:

    The 407ETR a “Private Company” was given the privilege of plate denial through the MTO by the Ontario courts in 2005.
    Although, No one owes the Province of Ontario any Fines?
    No One has committed an offense to warrant plate denial.
    How is that legal???
    The law states that a collection company must be registered as such to legally collect debt on behalf of a registered Company here in Ontario.
    The Ministry of Transportation is not a collection Company.
    The Courts, must have a hidden agenda? the politician’s have been turning a blind eye to this matter for far too long.
    Do you think the Province is getting paid to allow the 407etr to use the MTO in this manner?
    Sounds about right?
    Something reeks of extortion, its taken too long for the courts to uphold the laws in an responsible manner!!!

    • Tammy Flores says:

      Funny you mention this. Just this morning I saw a tweet about someone complaining that it appeared people purposely scratched off their plate so as to avoid tolls. That person tweeted the OPP and asked whether or not they stop people like that on Highway 407. Now I think you and I can agree that that is blatant toll evasion if it is true. The OPP responded and said they sure do stop them and if they are evading tolls or engaged in illegal activity they will be charged!

      I wish someone can explain to me how it is that the media can be so easily duped as to believe that people with outstanding toll bills are toll evaders. If they were they would be charged criminally.

      I think the problem lies within the bureaucratics and the political spin doctors. You see it’s the bureaucrats that benefit financially. You know all the lobbyists, et al. The political spin doctors need to make the politicians shine and this tarnishes them because they are getting some really bad advice. So it’s the shift the blame game to save face. That’s my thoughts.

      I don’t know that it’s necessarily that the politicians are getting a cut or anything… but who knows. My gut feeling is that it’s the bureaucrats… not necessarily all staff, but the movers and shakers, the ones that need to keep a reputation.

  4. D Murph says:

    This is June 15th and I have just return from the MTO office.
    An MTO employee has urged, everyone who is under Plate Denial in Ontario to contact the MTO Ombudsman complaints department, this week or ASAP, regarding these unpaid FINES??? It can be accomplished online and a reply will be sent directly to your email account.
    Apparently, the majority of employees of the MTO do not agree or feel that anyone owes the Government of Ontario any debts under the laws of the Provincial offences Act or of the Highway traffic Act.
    The 407 ETR as a PRIVATE COMPANY does not and should not be qualified, to use the Ministry of Transportation, MTO as a private collection company for these unsubstantiated fines!!!
    People act accordingly and do not just except this manner of extortion tactics.

    • Tammy Flores says:

      OK let’s see what we can do that way. Considering we were in to Strategic Highways in their Keele St. building in 2012, I really don’t believe they will act, but it don’t hurt to try. Thanks.

  5. RZ says:

    Speaking of kept in the dark.

    I’m looking for a copy of the 407 General Lease agreement. It has been removed from their website.

    If you google 407 etr general lease agreement pdf

    The link is no longer valid.

    Do you know where a publicly accessible copy of it is?

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