The Fixer: Province `powerless’ on 407 bills

Many readers have called, emailed or posted comments at since reporter Jack Lakey, a.k.a. The Fixer, wrote about billing problems with 407.

Jack Lakey
Staff Reporter

Drivers looking for relief from the 407 express toll road’s collection tactics and sky-high interest rates aren’t likely to get help from Ontario’s transportation ministry.

While he sympathizes with people who are battling the 407 over questionable invoices comprised mostly of interest charges, Transportation Minister Jim Bradley says “we’re not aware of anything,” Queen’s Park can do to change it.

“It is frustrating for customers and, of course, for the government as well,” Bradley said in an interview, noting the province went to court several years ago to strip the 407 of its right to compel the transportation ministry to deny licence plate renewals to drivers who refuse to pay, but lost.

“We, as a government, have no control over that, as a result of the (Mike) Harris government’s deal,” to lease the toll road to a private consortium for 99 years and include a provision in the contract forcing the transportation ministry to deny new plates to anyone who doesn’t pay the 407 whatever it demands, said Bradley.

Our story last Monday outlined how the 407 bills people for driving allegedly done many years before — usually with no supporting documentation — and adds interest charges of 26.82 per cent, resulting in bills that in many cases total thousands of dollars.

We’ve had more than 300 emails and calls from readers and hundreds of comments posted on the Star’s website. Almost all expressed outrage over the interest and the 407’s right to deny drivers a new plate as a means to ensure payment.

The 407 “negotiated a deal that was very favourable to them and they covered all the aspects of the deal that they would want,” said Bradley.

Many readers said they think the 407 deliberately holds back invoices on unpaid balances to allow interest charges to grow, but Bradley noted that it “is responsible for establishing its own business practices, and under its deal … it has the right to set and collect tolls and administration fees and interest.”

Couldn’t the province impose a cap or time limit on interest charged by the 407?

Ottawa is responsible for interest rate legislation, said Bradley, adding federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty might be a better guy to ask.

Wasn’t Flaherty a player in the provincial cabinet at the time the 407 was leased, and later Ontario’s finance minister, we asked? Wasn’t he one of the government members who assured us the 407 deal was prudent fiscal management and would balance the province’s books? We both laughed out loud at the prospect of Flaherty doing anything now to lessen the 407’s special powers.

Readers have offered some novel ideas, including a statute of limitation on accumulated interest, or a class action lawsuit, which we’ll examine in upcoming stories.

But so far, the province seems to be washing its hands of the problem. How do you like that? Please let us know.

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One Response to “The Fixer: Province `powerless’ on 407 bills”

  1. Tudval says:

    I know a guy who’s not resident of Canada, but visits Toronto every 2-3 years. He wanted to get on hwy 7 and got on 407 by mistake, as he took the first turn after passing Steels, as he always did. He realized the mistake and exited at first opportunity. The bill should’ve been about $3, but by the time he received it, it has risen to $30, because they were adding penalties after 30 days unpaid balance. That was 12 years ago. He didn’t want to pay and wanted to fight it, but found out that he’s out of luck. Now the bill comes to about $500, but since he doesn’t need to register a car in Ontario, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is the image he got about Canada and the ‘rule of law’ here.

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