The Fixer: Hwy. 407 throws drivers a curve


The 407 has a suggestion for motorists who don’t like its billing practices: don’t use it.

Star readers tell of huge bills sent years after supposed trips on controversial road

Jack Lakey

Staff Reporter

Invoices for thousands of dollars – mostly interest fees – have been received by hundreds of drivers years after charges were incurred for using the 407 Express Toll Road.

Some got invoices intended for long-dead spouses or parents, in one case billed to a plate that’s been mounted on a garage wall since it was cancelled nearly five years ago.

Others said they were far away from Ontario when they were supposedly driving on the toll road.

More than 200 readers responded with angry emails after we asked about 407 billing problems.

Many drivers who tried to fight unfair bills gave up and paid, rather than risk being denied a licence plate renewal – an unparalleled power included in the 99-year lease granted to the private consortium that runs the 407. (In other words: Pay what we say or you don’t drive your vehicle.)

One email compared 407 billing to a “mafia shakedown.”

Lisa Thompson got a 407 invoice in September billed to a licence plate that belonged to her father, who’s been dead for two years and last held an active plate in 2004. The trip allegedly occurred Aug. 9.

The bill said they couldn’t record “either the entry or the exit point” for the mystery trip, but still demanded payment of $6.58, Thompson said. She was also asked to fax a copy of a death certificate as proof of his demise.

“If the 407 could not record the entry or exit point,” she wonders, “how could they send a bill to a deceased man with expired plates?”

Robert Kelly said he got a bill last February for $4,297.25, including $194.97 in fees and $2,813.99 in interest, on $1,288.87 in toll charges.

“I have not even owned a car since 2002 or 2003, and even then I was only on (the road) once when it was free,” Kelly said.

“I am in a nursing home now on a fixed income and my inquiries have been ignored. I don’t know what to do.”

The 407 says there is nothing wrong with its billing methods, insisting customer service is a priority topped only by safety.

“It is not an indication of a billing problem,” 407 spokesman Steve Spencer said of the complaints we received, adding he could not discuss individual cases.

“Your article did ask for people to tell you their bad stories,” he noted.

Customers have made more than 500 million trips on the 407 in the past five years, said Spencer, and “the great, great majority of those drivers are happy with our service.

“We’re not saying we are perfect. . . But then if the customer does have an issue, we want them to give us a call and we’ll try to sort it out.”

Of the complaints we received, which were forwarded to the 407, only a few readers said the company’s dispute resolution process cut them a break. Others got nowhere, even after appealing to the 407 ombudsman.

Gary Stracina says his overdue 407 bill was sent to collection more than 10 years ago. He had paid it, “but the money was never applied to my account,” he writes, “and now, with interest on a dead account, I owe $1,200.

“Numerous trips to their offices on Steeles with a copy of the cashed cheque and promises to resolve the situation have led nowhere. They did, however, mail me a file one-inch thick with invoices they claimed I received.”

The most common complaint, like Stracina’s, is that a bill arrived out of the blue, demanding an eye-popping amount from drivers certain they owed no money, with no supporting documentation on the invoice.

The 407 charges annual interest of 26.82 per cent on unpaid balances, as well as collection fees and other charges that can swell the total enormously.

Some readers suggested the 407 is in no hurry to collect on outstanding balances, since the clock is ticking on huge interest rates and the company can simply bill later with the potent threat of licence plate denial.

“The 407 billing system sucks,” said Shirley Poon. “It sounds like it will suppress the billing and randomly send out the bill after X number of years so they can claim a ridiculous amount of interest.”

“My blood comes to a slow boil every time I try to deal with the arrogance at 407 ETR,” said Darko Mesich, who recently received bills from early 2005 that grew from $79 to $246, “with no activities besides interest charges and one enforcement fee of $18.”

Like many others, including people who have lived at the same address since before the 407 existed, Mesich said he didn’t get any bills until the recent invoice, while the 407 maintained he was repeatedly billed but didn’t pay.

Erin Lumley said she got a $216.34 invoice last January for an unpaid charge of $5.97 from 2000, adding that she had reported her changes of address in between to the provincial transportation ministry, “but never had an invoice sent to my correct address.”

She was told to pay $55 and that an investigation would be done on her account. “In September I received a notice saying the ministry has been instructed not to issue me new plates and my account was being sent to collection.”

Spencer says the 407 sends out an unpaid bill for at least a few months and eventually stops mailing them if it isn’t paid, but didn’t explain why it often stops billing for several years, then manages to find the customer and send a new bill.

“We really do try to get a hold of them as best we can,” he said. “When we’re getting no response from an invoice, so it’s gone out and there’s an amount owing still, we actually go to the MTO and we check every month to see if there’s been a change in the address.”

It may come as a surprise to users that the 407 considers anyone who has used the road even once to have entered into an “implied contract” requiring drivers to promptly notify it of all future changes of address, licence plate or vehicle.

“A new account is opened each time a new licence plate travels on 407 ETR,” said Spencer, who then referred to a standard notice on all invoices: “New plate? New address? New car? Remember, we don’t receive automatic updates from the Ministry of Transportation, so keeping us up to date will ensure you receive your 407 ETR bill promptly and avoid interest or collection activity.”

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4 Responses to “The Fixer: Hwy. 407 throws drivers a curve”

  1. Jack says:

    I received a bill after 8 years from these scum bags for a vehicle that i had traded in at the dealers. Aparently AFTER i traded it in the dealership was to return mu old plates because i purchased a vanity plate.YET the mechanic drove my OLD truck up and down the 407 for 2 months afterwards. Now i have a bill for well over 8000 $ to pay or i cant get new plates. This is criminal and an invasion of privacy that the 407 has acess to the MTO data base. They have the ability to obtain your DL number and all supporting information. Great case for identity theft. Not to mention Every time i have called NO ONE person is canadian. Is it really run by terriosts?
    They use the MTO as their collection department and thats wrong. Yet they arent even from Ontario. Denial of plates should be illigal.

  2. Tammy Flores says:

    Statements like this “It is not an indication of a billing problem,” 407 spokesman Steve Spencer said of the complaints we received, adding he could not discuss individual cases.

    “Your article did ask for people to tell you their bad stories,” he noted. Makes my blood boil.

    Go ahead 407, revert back to the same game you played with the Province where you accused them of being bias in your Toll Road News. We know what you are up to.

    There is absolutely a problem with your billing system. There are hundreds of people with problems caused by your billing system. They are bad stories because they are bad stories. No body is picking on you, 407, you have ignored the problems for so long that now, we are demanding you fix them. The writer of this article has gotten emails from us, he didn’t request us to write him. We are outraged. Your spin does not work with us.

    All of us with billing problems, including me, would love to hear your spin on why, after so many years, the problems still exists. Please talk about my example in particular. I give you full permission to.

    Sincerely,
    Tammy Flores

  3. Dawn says:

    407 is nuts! A fee that was paid in 2005 by someone else’s transponder used in my car isn’t recognized by thier appaling computer system.

    After more then 5 years of calls, emails etc. I called and escalated to “the office of thr president” they wrote off the interest only. I paid cause I was so fed up after 5 years.

    So, they’ve been paid twice and we’re also financing their awful innacurate billing system.

    We have no real recourse, as everyone at the 407 (d/a, ombudsman, privacy officer) I’ve written to just says (in a form type letter) that I’m denied & have to pay. Calling is insane & requires very long waits, just to be told pay up.

    ***Why does the Ministry of transportation allow them to deny plates when there is no real recourse available to us to dispute? Their sysem (and it’s an old & bad one) ALWAYS says 407 is right & we’re wrong.

    It is untrue that anything in their system was “fixed” it’s as bad in 2011 as ever

    Plate denial should be removed from their authority!

  4. P. Mallery says:

    ‘Don’t like our billing, stay off our highway’!

    The BORGIA clan should get a taste of that. We’ll see how long they stick around when everyone stops using the highway.

    Damn criminals!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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