$9,000 bogus bridge bill could be one of thousands: CTV News investigation
Published Saturday, October 21, 2017 12:04PM PDT
Last Updated Saturday, October 21, 2017 12:26PM PDT
A Maple Ridge man is facing a shocking $9,000 bill for six years’ worth of driving across the Golden Ears Bridge – even though he can prove he and his truck were working out of town for much of it.
And CTV News has learned cases like Jeffrey Hann’s, where either of the Lower Mainland’s toll bridges send bogus bills to customers who were nowhere near the bridge, could number in the thousands per month.
It’s a problem that is surfacing now even though the tolls were removed, because the final bills are being collected now, and if drivers don't pay they are threatened with not being able to renew insurance.
“I am stunned. My wife was stunned,” the former U.S. Marine told CTV News, holding a stack of bills numbering more than 200 pages that he had printed at the office of Quickpass, which handles the Golden Ears Bridge tolls.
Hann tried to renew the license plate of his white Dodge Ram a few weeks ago, but ICBC told him he had tolls owing. He thought he was up to date, so phoned Quickpass to find out more.
“She said, ‘Oh, you have a substantial bill.’ Ok, what is it? ‘It’s $9000.56.’ I asked her if she was kidding,” he said.
She wasn’t: Quickpass systems recorded his truck crossing about 1200 times going back to 2011 until the tolls were removed in August.
That was a surprise on several levels: Hann had been paying his bill for crossing the Port Mann Bridge, and thought that the systems were linked. He hadn’t received any other bills from the bridge. But he also had renewed his truck’s license plate during that time, and there had been no flags.
And a further surprise: as a union sheet metal worker, he could track the projects that he worked on which took him to Kitimat for most of a year, or to the Sunshine Coast, or Trail, and during all of those times he’s recorded making multiple crossings.
“I’m in camp in 2013 on my birthday, but they have me crossing the bridge three times that day,” he said.
It added up to $4988.65 in tolls and $3535.35 in interest, as well as $476.51 extra that neither he nor CTV News could figure out.
Hann isn’t the first person to contact CTV News, concerned about inaccurate tolls. Dozens of drivers have called in during the time the tolls were in operation.
For example, John Chisholm got a bill for crossing the Port Mann even though he was on Salt Spring Island and Joe Desroches got a bill for a completely different vehicle. Dieter Hofner said he was being “bullied” by T.I. Corp after a bogus extra charge.
There are two ways the bridges used to record who to bill: the first, a transponder, is almost 100 per cent accurate. But it’s when the bridge takes pictures of a licence plate to be identified that problems occur.
All of Hann’s toll charges are “video toll” charges.
Freedom of Information Requests to the agencies that run both bridges revealed that the number of times someone is given a bogus bill isn’t tracked.
But T.I. Corp, which runs the Port Mann Bridge, does track “toll reversals.” That happens, on average, 3000 times per month, according to those documents.
That’s twenty times the rate the corporation has previously told reporters.
T.I. Corp spokesperson Greg Johnson said that figure could include misread plates, but could also include accounts that have been merged or consolidated.
“Because the system tracks toll reversals, it does not differentiate which reversals and toll transfers would be due to a plate misread and which were because of an account consolidation,” he wrote in an e-mail.
The data show two major peaks in June 2014 and August 2016 to about 5500 a month and 4300 a month respectively; otherwise it is a fairly linear pattern starting at about 4000 per month in March 2013 and dropping to about 1500 per month in July 2017, the last month provided.
TransLink, which operates the Golden Ears Bridge, didn’t address Hann’s case directly. The agency said it receives customer complaints in 0.02 per cent of all bills.
Its FOI only showed complaints numbering about 170 in 2016, the last full year provided.
“The video tolling system was tested regularly to ensure accuracy,” spokesperson Jill Drews wrote in an e-mail. “Once per month, Quickpass would take a portion of video of bridge crossings and compare the automated system results to results of a manual review. TransLink will then audit that audit at least twice a year.”
She said customers with concerns should contact Quickpass.
It’s not clear why the charges weren’t flagged the last time Hann renewed his insurance – neither ICBC nor TransLink could answer that question, saying they believed their systems had been linked since 2009.
Also a mystery: whether there is a real other truck that crossed the bridge and who has been doing it for free for years.
Hann says he’s willing to pay the tolls for the crossings he actually took. But after this experience he’s deeply skeptical that the people running the bridge understand the problem they are facing.
“My personal opinion is that they need to throw everything away. Why should I have to pay for their errors?” he said.