Long arm of law reaches out to check 407 transponders

The 407 toll road relies on a public police force to catch drivers using incorrect or stolen transponders to avoid paying tolls.

Three Ontario Provincial Police cruisers that patrol the 407 are equipped with technology that can detect if vehicles are equipped with the wrong transponder, allowing an officer to stop the driver, seize the transponder and issue a ticket for evading tolls.

It may come as a surprise to motorists whose blood boils when they think of the 407 that the OPP not only enforces rules and speed limits on the private road but also carries out toll enforcement to ensure drivers don’t dodge the bill.

But the OPP says it isn’t doing the toll road any favours, just enforcing the Highway Traffic Act and carrying out functions for which it is paid by the 407.

“We are contracted by the 407 under a policing services agreement,” said Staff Sgt. Ed Hickey of the Aurora OPP, the detachment responsible for patrolling the 407.

“A very low proportion of drivers evade tolls, but our enforcement is very effective.”

Since last fall we’ve been documenting readers’ outrage over the 407’s billing practices and interest charges of 26.82 per cent annually, which can add up to huge sums when the bill arrives many years after the charges were run up, as is too often the case.

Queen’s Park says it is powerless to rein in the 407, pointing to iron-clad provisions in the deal the private consortium made with the former Progressive Conservative government to lease the road from the province for 99 years.

It’s an unsatisfactory answer for the hundreds of drivers who emailed and called us about their 407 billing woes, and troubling for us, since we can only offer a forum for complaints.

Peter Kastner emailed to say a newsletter that came with his 407 bill said “OPP cruisers had been equipped with new safety equipment that allowed them to discern if a nearby vehicle had a transponder,” adding he followed up with the 407 and OPP to ask questions about it, but “got nowhere.”

We’ve been getting nowhere with the 407 since December, when it stopped answering our questions or even acknowledging receipt of our emails, as was the case with questions emailed Friday to Steve Spencer, its head of communications.

Hickey was willing to at least offer a cautious explanation of the OPP’s role in sniffing out vehicles with the wrong transponder and showed us a police SUV with a small black box attached to the roof that acts as the antenna.

But he wouldn’t talk about the technology, other than to say “it’s an electronic device that assists us in determining if a vehicle has a valid transponder,” adding Minnesota state police have used similar equipment on its toll roads for years.

He provided a copy of a 407 newsletter from last June that said OPP had started using a “mobile transponder reader” after a pilot project, consisting of three components: “An antenna which is mounted on the right side of the OPP cruiser and points to the right; the reader, which is a small black box located in the trunk of the cruiser; and a display unit mounted inside the cruiser.

“The pilot program was very successful and all of the OPP officers involved…were pleased with the results.”

We wonder how many readers are pleased that the OPP are on the front lines of the 407’s transponder enforcement, even if it’s a contractual obligation. Email us with your comments.

Article Source: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/fixer/article/787696

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