Last night a friend reminded me of another example of privatization. The 407 Expressway. It’s the only toll road in Ontario, to the best of my knowledge.
I have always boycotted its use since the one occasion that I did resort to using it about ten years ago. I don’t have a need to use it very often as my travels don’t usually go in that direction, but this one time I thought I’d use it to save a few minutes rather than heading down to the 401. I ended up getting a ridiculous bill in the mail charging me the regular toll plus an administrative fee. As I recall, the final toll was about $30 for my one time use which lasted less than half an hour. Granted, if I were to use the highway again, the administrative fee would not apply, but I wasn’t likely to use it again. So I paid the bill. A few weeks later I got another bill for the same amount as they were not registering that the first one had been paid. I ignored it, assuming that eventually the payment would make it through the bureaucracy. A few weeks later I got a threatening letter, explaining that if I refused to pay I would be unable to renew my license. I called them and spoke to a customer representative, who’s primary goal seemed to be to sell me a transponder. This was all followed by another letter and another phone call until the matter was finally settled.
I have spoken to many people who admit that the authority running the 407 has a miserable customer relations department and that the use of the expressway is overpriced. But what do you expect? They have a monopoly and they control the only highway that cuts diagonally across the strange system of roads that take a 45 degree turn at the York/Peel border. If you don’t use it, you end up backtracking to get anywhere southwest of Toronto.
No competition. Little accountability. A much needed service. Once again we have the prime situation for a privatized service becoming exploitative and arrogant.
And then the ultimate insult is when every other 400 series highway is gummed up by construction and closures so that it is impossible to get through Toronto without using the 407. Yesterday I had to get to Hamilton from Newmarket. I couldn’t take the 404 because it was jammed from Finch to the 401 due to the DVP closure. I couldn’t take the 400, because it was jammed at the 400/401 interchange because of construction. (The last time I tried that on a Saturday it took an hour to get through.) I couldn’t even take a regular road down to the 401 and then west, because it was jammed westbound due to construction at the 409 interchange. I could have taken the 407 if I was willing to pay and possibly put up with the same ineptitude again, but I chose to avoid the city completely by taking backroads into Peel before heading down to the 403. It worked reasonably well and probably only cost me about a half an hour extra transit time, but it should not have been necessary. I felt like I was being held hostage to use the 407, with everything else blocked. Extorted.