Ontario unable to help resolve 407 ETR billing disputes

The 407 ETR is facing public criticism for its billing practices.

The 407 is causing a different kind of road rage

Drivers who feel frustrated in combating the 407 ETR over erroneous billing shouldn’t lose heart, Queen’s Park also feels completely helpless, a government minister says.

Jim Bradley, Ontario’s transportation minister, told the Toronto Star he is not aware of anything the province can do to stop the company, though he is sympathetic to people’s plight. It’s not like the government has the power to create laws to govern and regulate companies operating in the province.

God forbid it should investigate the plethora of complaints of erroneous billing that have plagued the 407 since it was sold 10 years ago. If there is one thing the public hates, it’s our elected representatives curtailing the power of a multinational consortium to charge us whatever they feel like.

To be fair, it wasn’t the Liberals who created this mess. It was the Progressive Conservatives under Mike Harris who sold the highway, and gave the new owners such a sweetheart deal. The contract allows the 407 to raise tolls whenever they want, and also forces the province to help them collect the money by denying license plates to drivers with outstanding debts.

The Liberals in 2005 took the 407 to court to strike down the provision in the contract that compelled the ministry to withhold plates. But they lost, and that was that.

Now when someone, like my father, is sent a bill for more than $1,000 for a debt incurred years before, they have to pay the fine; it’s the law. It doesn’t matter that they never received a bill in all the years the debt was collecting interest at 26.82 per cent. And if it was on a license plate that has never been anywhere near the 407, you still have to pay if you want to drive.

The 407, however, is a staunch believer in customer service and has set up a ombudsman to settle disputes. But because of the volume of complaints it might take a while to get a response. After weeks of phone calls my father finally got a response from the ombudsman. He very graciously sent him another bill with the updated interest charges. It took several more weeks to get any supporting documentation about when the charges were incurred.

If you have the time and resources you can take the 407 to court. In 2006 a Markham car dealer won $50,000 in damages after spending four years in court battling over billing. However, it seems that the provincial government, like most of the people caught up in disputes with the 407, does not.

Don’t worry, there’s only 88 years left ’til the lease on the highway expires.

Article Source: http://www.thedailyplanet.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1735:407&catid=28:commentary&Itemid=268

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