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Author Topic:   407 ETR Tolls For Boat Trailer
jimh posted 12-12-2009 01:35 PM ET (US)   Profile for jimh   Send Email to jimh  
If you are traveling in Ontario near Toronto, the private highway 407 ETR is an attractive alternative to the Queen's Highway 401. The ETR stands for Express Toll Route. There are no toll booths on this road. One simply drives on and drives off without any sort of intervention of a toll collector.

The 407 ETR collects its payment for travel on the highway by use of transponders in the vehicles. For transient vehicles without transponder, they employ video surveillance. If they see your vehicle using the road, they send you a bill, or they charge your account if you're a prior customer.

This summer we were heading for our launching site in Georgian Bay for a week of vacation cruising the beautiful 40,000 islands therein, and as we approached Toronto the weather was terrible. It was raining very hard, with the result that speeds on the highway were slow and traffic was very congested. When we reached the branch-off point for the 407 ETR, that highway was practically empty, and, since it was a short cut to our destination anyways, we turned onto it. We only travelled about 20-miles, then exited back to the public highway, but we avoided the heaviest traffic of Toronto. In terms of distance, we probably only saved six miles, but the reduced time and loss of traffic congestion were more valuable. Stop and go in a pouring rain with a 6,000-lbs trailer is never very fun.

We were speculating if we'd even get charged for the trip for several reasons. First, our truck license plate was rather well obscured by the boat trailer we were towing. On some previous trips we had used the 407 ETR and never gotten a bill. My guess was that perhaps the database of license plate information the ETR was using did not have our relatively new boat trailer plate. Also, the visibility that day was terrible. It was dark and raining like mad. Spray from the trailer tires was throwing a long tail behind the boat, and visibility of the trailer license plate would be difficult at best. Finally, although I did not know it at the time, the lamp that illuminates the license plate on my trailer was extinguished due to a corroded socket connection.

Several month later we got a bill in the mail from the 407 ETR. For our 20-mile trip they claimed we owed them $30. My reaction: highway robbery, literally. My second reaction: the new permanent trailer license plate system in Michigan for boat trailers must have put us into the database.

I called the ETR billing telephone to complain about the charges. The $30 total consisted of a rather stiff penalty for not having a vehicle transponder, a rather aggressive toll rate for the paltry 20-miles of travel, and a service fee for not having set-up an account ahead of time and pre-paid. I explained to the agent that I was an honest person, willing to pay an honest toll for travel, but the surcharges for no transponder and no pre-paid or existing account were all being made without any notice to me as I entered the highway. (The signs only warn that your license plate must be visible from overhead.)

After a few minutes delay, the agent returned to ask if I had a boat trailer. Of course, I told her "Yes." This turned out to be the crucial element in resolving the problem. Apparently when Michigan decided it would alter the licensing of boat trailers to a "permanent trailer" license, this categorization lumped boat trailers into the same category as semi-tractor trailer rigs. As a result, we were assessed a high toll rate, appropriate for a heavy truck. In addition, trucks are very strongly encouraged to have in-vehicle transponders for the ETR, and thus the high penalty for not having one that we received. When these two factors were corrected, the toll dropped to about $6. However, a small service fee was assessed for the video identification process (which probably requires a human to view the recording and transcribe the license plate number) and the billing by mail without existing account or pre-payment. The total bill was now about $12.

Twelve dollars seemed much fairer than $30, so I paid off my account with my credit card. Later I discovered that if you pre-authorize charges to your credit card you get a free trip credit for 50-km. That should just about cover the distance we need, so we can probably ride the 407 ETR for free next time with a bit of planning.

Curiously, another vehicle towing a Boston Whaler boat and traveling right behind me has not received a bill for this trip. That boat trailer was using some very bright LED lighting. I think that on this dark and raining day the video surveillance camera might have had difficulty seeing the license plate due to the very high contrast ratio. Too much light on the license plate might have washed it out in the video image. Also, that boat trailer might have had plates from a state other than Michigan. I imagine that on the ETR there are more Michigan cars than any other state, and therefore their database of license information is probably very good for Michigan, but perhaps not so good for other states farther away (to the west like, say, Illinois for example).

In any case, I mention this with the notion of alerting people to the potential to get over-charged on the 407 ETR if towing a boat. A call to dispute a bill saved me $18.

Jeff posted 12-13-2009 04:05 PM ET (US)     Profile for Jeff  Send Email to Jeff     

I would think since the other vehicle had just registered it's Trailer in Michigan the database may not have contained the registrants information at that time. If that is the case, I wonder if they could be retroactively charged once the plate is entered in the database or, they travel that route again.

Buckda posted 12-15-2009 02:35 PM ET (US)     Profile for Buckda  Send Email to Buckda     
Well that other trailer was mine.

Jeff is right - it had a freshly-minted Michigan plate on it, and I agree with the assessment that it is likely that the transfer of records between the State of Michigan and the Province of Ontario is probably a periodical transaction, rather than a continual thing..meaning I'm probably in the gap and got a freebie this year.

Unless Canadian toll roads are run MUCH better than American toll roads, I seriously doubt that I will be retroactively charged once the database is updated with my plate/registration information.

Also, on speculation, I did check my I-PASS transponder account, to see if the ETR's transponder system had recognized and charged me via that route. There are no charges that have posted to that account.

Incidentally, if you are an ETR official who is reading this, I, Too am an honest citizen (of the United States) and will happily pay an honest fare for using this great shortcut around Toronto.

I do agree with JimH though that the signage is far from explicit or clear regarding the terms of using the ETR. I remember following JimH onto the roadway and thinking 'how much is this going to cost me?' - because the signs make absolutely no mention of toll rates, etc.

So - Kudos for building the ETR - whoever you are.
FAIL on signage explaining how it works and what it might cost a motorist.

Seems like I got a freebie last summer - but I fully expect to be in the database and billed on my next trip through the area.

dfmcintyre posted 12-16-2009 10:06 PM ET (US)     Profile for dfmcintyre  Send Email to dfmcintyre     
Dave / Jim -

Gail and I took a more scenic route back from the region. Route 4 that runs southwest from the 400. We were advised to avoid Barrie. Was a pretty route, in the most fertile area of the region.


Flipper posted 12-17-2009 10:07 AM ET (US)     Profile for Flipper  Send Email to Flipper     
The company I worked for was billed thousands when it should have been hundreds after our F-550 cube van was "mistaken" for a heavy truck. It took a couple of months of haggling and personal visits to the ETR head office with pictures and registration of our truck. Painful waste of time for us, but I'm sure they get paid more often than not by folks who take only the odd trip and say "never again".
jimh posted 12-19-2009 05:31 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Thanks for the additional information about over-charging from the ETR 407. I can better understand why that roadway was almost empty while the Queen's Highway 401 was packed bumper-to-bumper.
Buckda posted 12-21-2009 08:48 AM ET (US)     Profile for Buckda  Send Email to Buckda     
Well, not to spin this too far off topic, but it would be interesting to know if the lack of citizen interest was regional/national disdain for tollroads (how many toll roads does Canada have?) - or if it was due to mismanagement...or a perception that Toronto traffic "is not that bad".

The reason I say this is because I basically have the thought of "NEVER AGAIN" for the FREE Bishop Ford/Borman expressway route into Chicago from Indiana and Michigan. I gladly pay the toll to take the Skyway Bridge into and out of the city.

Yes, the Ford is THAT BAD.

jechura posted 12-21-2009 02:22 PM ET (US)     Profile for jechura  Send Email to jechura     
I had a similar experience when I visited a fellow member in Brampton 2 1/2 years ago. Traveling a total of around 16 miles both ways it work out to around 1.50 a mile.

"The 407 is operated privately under a 99-year lease agreement with the provincial government. The lease was sold to a consortium of Canadian, Spanish and Australian interests operating under the name 407 International Inc. for approximately $3.1 billion in 1999, a figure that is acknowledged to be far lower than the actual value of the highway"

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