The Review of Customer Service – Highway 407 ETR, November 12th, 2004

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On November 12th, 2004, then Minister of Transportation, Harinder Takhar commissioned MPP Mike Colle to lead an investigative review into customer complaints against the operator of Highway 407.  His mission was to collect as many stories as possible about peoples’ experiences with the operators of this highway.  It was a fact-finding exercise but was also a solutions-oriented process because he was to gather public info on how services could be improved.

This is expected since this toll highway is the first of its kind here in Canada and these operators are serving a public need.  There is a public private relationship that I will elaborate on in another article.  It will show why the government needs to stop hiding behind the Highway 407 Act as an excuse for inaction and recognize all the other laws that govern business here in Canada.

MPP Mike Colle reported that a widespread consultation was undertaken by means of phone, letters, email and faxes.  My question is why wasn’t there a media blitz for public input?  I mean he claims that he sought to obtain the broadest public input, but there is no way you will ever convince me that that was accomplished if he only received 734 Ontarians submitting.

Although MPP Mike Colle states that he and his fellow MPP’s who joined him on the local panels were disappointed by the range of concerns about the customer service and billing practices of the operators of this highway, disappointment is a far cry from the action needed to fix this mess called Highway 407.

With the government proceeding on the extension of this 108 KM highway here in the east and claiming that they are going to accomplish a seamless system and remain in control over customer service on just this extension does not add up to me.  How are they planning to accomplish that without the current operator’s involvement?

MPP Mike Cole stated that the issues he investigated if they remained unresolved, they would leave motorists feeling frustrated and vulnerable.  Well it is now 5 years after MPP Mike Colle’s report has been released and guess what?  Regardless of the claims of changes to improve the 407 ETR’s customer service and billing practices, there still is not an effective mechanism in place to deal with disputes to ensure a satisfactory resolution.  It’s time for the government to fix this problem once and for all and to stop turning a blind eye to it because it only makes this problem worse.

One thing I would like to call out, right here and now, with regards to Mike Colle’s report is this following statement:  “the problems and difficulties that customers say begin with the 407 ETR’s technology, continues and accelerates when ‘consumers choose to question the company’s billings, do not pay their bills on time, or simply refuse to pay for incorrect billings’ ” Does this statement hold the consumer at fault for this companies shabby customer service, unlawful billing/collection practices and abuse of power that remains unchecked?

Also this statement: “The 407 ETR has already publicly stated, and no doubt will continue to state, that the number of complaints is relatively small given the number of people who are served by this highway.”  Does this mean that they are allowed to claim “special status” and are absolved from dealing with the issues?

Let’s breathe some life into this for a minute here. MPP Mike Colle’s recommendations were as follows:

1) To appoint a 407 ETR Highway Ombudsman.  5 years later, this has proven to be a waste of time and money.  It isn’t working.  The 407’s attitude towards how our complaints are relatively small and how they have dealt with them has not changed.  The 407 Ombudsman has proven to be merely the strong collection arm of the 407 ETR.  Even when you go through all the “tiers” of their complaint process, you still do not get any answers.  The 407 ETR does not provide you with proof of legal charges.  They practice invoice suppression and try to collect on illegal interest charges and bankruptcy cases. The Ombudsman’s office avoids answering any of your questions and merely irritates what the complaint process tries to force feed the public.  I have been to the Privacy Commissioner twice and went through everything with regards to the complaint process and still, lawful charges against me have not been proven, but yet I am in plate denial, a process that is only supposed to take place when there are lawful charges.  When you ask what proof has been provided to the Ministry of Transportation with regards to lawful charges?  They don’t have anything.  So why is the vast majority of people in plate denial without proof of lawful charges?

2) No collection efforts while a bill is in dispute.  If proof of charges is not supplied to a consumer, the bill is still in dispute despite the 407 ETR’s efforts to force you to acknowledge otherwise.  Again, under the circumstances no one should be in plate denial.  Why is the government not protecting its citizens from this abuse of power?  Why are they colluding with this private corporation to collect unlawful charges?

3) Outlaw harassing automated collection agency phone calls.  This is still happening.

4) Affordable tolls for truckers.  The 407 ETR can raise tolls to lower traffic.  They have no desire to lower tolls for anyone.  What about the needs this highway is supposed to service?  If you compare the ratio of growth to traffic needs, this highway gets a huge fail in what it is supposed to service.

5) Lower late fees and service charges.  They are trying to collect on unlawful interest charges and bankruptcy files.  These interest charges are due to their practice of invoice suppression and a consumer not receiving bills for years after the fact and then the 407 ETR refuses to provide proof of charges.  This is not lawful.  A person under those circumstances should not be in plate denial.

6) Appoint an independent auditor to verify 407 ETR systems.  This does not require them to audit accounts for accuracy or lawful charges. A mechanism has to be in place where lawful charges are demonstrated prior to honouring a plate denial.  The 407 ETR should not be judge and jury on what constitutes a lawful charge.  They claim “special status” but I am inclined to believe that is an excuse to flagrantly tout that they don’t have to follow the rules that any other corporation in Canada has to follow because no one is holding them accountable.

In conclusion, considering that the very reasons for this initial investigation still exists, this warrants action on the part of the government.  When are they going to do what they are accountable to do?

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3 Responses to “The Review of Customer Service – Highway 407 ETR, November 12th, 2004”

  1. Glenn says:

    How many people know that the 407ETR has quietly implemented Toll charges for people with transponders? I couldn’t believe it when I heard it! I called them and they confirmed it. It is less than the Toll charge for vehicles without transponders but it is an additional charge none the less. They did this sneakily over a year ago – it’s not even transparent on the bills (under New Activity it has (incl. $0.00 in trip tolls) in small print). I live in Thornhill and I do many one or two exit trips (thinking I was paying 20-25 cents a KM – WRONG!!!) – what a sneaky rip off this is! The column says “Trip & Toll charges” but does not even break it out. Someone has to do something about these rip off artists!

  2. Zak says:

    Yes, major ripoff – it is listed on the 407 website as trip toll charge (currently $0.60 per trip) – regardless if you have a transponder.

    I’m shocked by the rates. Because it is so ridculously expensive, I don’t use it very often. It use to cost less than $5 to get to the airport from where I live, now it’s over $9 – that’s an 80% increase!

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