By Tammy Flores
When Andrew Bird left the Province of Ontario for work, he had no idea the surprise that would await him when he returned and tried to plate his vehicle. Service Ontario told him that he would have to pay $43,000.00 in 407 ETR tolls before he would be able to put his vehicle on the road. $43,000.00?! At that moment, I am sure Andrew Bird was puzzled. How could that be possible? He hadn’t been in the Province for years and so couldn’t have driven on the highway. As he looked back and remembered a bill from 2002 that he tried to get a resolution on, he realized that it obviously went unresolved.
Andrew Bird’s story hit nationally in the media forcing the 407 ETR to give a response on how someone could end up with a $43,000.00 bill, that hasn’t driven on their highway for many, many years. Kevin Sack, 407 ETR’s VP of Communications and Government Relations didn’t answer how someone that hadn’t been driving on the highway for many, many years could end up with a $43,000.00 bill. Instead, Kevin Sack went on to say that the company was in the business of providing a great service to get people to their destinations in a fast, safe and reliable way. The company was only interested in collecting tolls and not interest and fees. He also went on to say that cases like Andrew Bird’s were rare and the company was doing everything they possibly could to make sure they gave people every opportunity to pay their bills every month. So what happened to Andrew Bird? Did he fall through the cracks in their system? Time will tell. 407 ETR has not commented on Andrew Bird’s situation publicly.
The group “Stop the 407 ETR’s Abuse of Power” has been highlighting for over 3 years the fact that there are thousands of stories just like Andrew Bird’s whereby a person receives an outrageous bill, that hadn’t been on the highway for many, many years. When the bill is investigated, it’s discovered that it was almost entirely made up of interest and fees.
Lena Leader, a member from the group says “we had a dispute with 407 ETR that we resolved back in 2004 through a collection agency because we were in Plate Denial. After we paid the undocumented amounts of money 407 ETR claimed was owed, the Plate Denial was lifted and we were able to drive our vehicle for several years. We decided as a family that we were not going to use this highway because of how confusing and difficult it was to get any answers from the company about what exactly we owed them for. We did use it one or two times in 2007 and 2009, out of necessity. The company never sent us a bill, but the amounts owed showed up through Service Ontario when we went to renew our plates. We didn’t bother fighting with this company about not receiving the bill or what the actual tolls were because of our past experience with them. It was a small amount of money, so we just paid it. Then, out of nowhere in 2011 we received another undocumented bill. This time it was for $33,000.00! There was absolutely no details as to what the amount was for. This time we questioned 407 ETR about what the bill was for. 407 ETR claimed that over 500 trips were made by us on their highway. We found that odd because we didn’t drive on the highway aside from the one or two times in 2007 and 2009. We asked why we hadn’t received any bills for those trips. 407 ETR didn’t answer, but promised to give us proof that those trips occurred. It’s been over 3 years now and 407 ETR has not provided any proof that the trips occurred. We assume the bill from 2004 was never cleared. We are in Plate Denial. Our bill is over $48,000.00 for undocumented amounts claimed. This is not fair.”
“Stop the 407 ETR’s Abuse of Power” responded to Kevin Sack’s comments in an open letter that can be found at www.407etr-abuseofpower.com . The group has been pointing out that there are issues with how 407 ETR bills people and that our political leaders can and should regulate how this company applies Plate Denial. So far nobody has come forward to champion the idea. The group says people have lost their jobs and their homes because of having to pay an outrageous amount of undocumented money. The group says a wide array of people have been effected and pointed out examples such as a grandmother that had her mobility taken away and couldn’t visit her grandchildren and a single mom with a disabled child has been prevented from getting her child to doctor appointments. The group is calling for better transparency with the company’s billing practices.
This should make us all question what our political leaders are doing about this issue. It is certainly within their power to regulate this company.
If you live in the Province of Ontario this can happen to you. Can you imagine, without warning, showing up one day to register your vehicle and being told you can’t unless you pay a ridiculous amount of undocumented money? Remember this has happened to thousands of people across the province because of some ambiguous legislation that allows a private corporation to withhold your ability to register your vehicle, without any rhyme or reason.
For many people, not being able to register their vehicles means not being able to work to contribute to their families or the tax base. This is an issue that affects us all.