WINDSOR, Ont. — The Ambassador Bridge’s new electronic A-Pass toll system in its early rollout has been met with some criticism from customers being billed incorrectly.
The system, which uses an overhead truss to capture RFID windshield tags on trucks moving onto the Ambassador Bridge from US interstates on their way to Canada, complements a similar system put in place two years ago for inbound US trucks.
The truss not only detects RFID tags but has cameras to capture truck licence plates, USDOT numbers, and even names and logos painted alongside cabs and trailers.
But not all customers have been happy with the new system.
Rose Monteforte, accounting administrator for flatbed steel and machinery hauler Frontier Transportation Services in Beamsville, Ont. detailed a list of billing errors.
“They would invoice us and we’d get the invoice and it wouldn’t be our freight number, it wouldn’t be our truck, so we’d have to call and request pictures or backup and 99% of the time they were not our invoices,” she said.
Frontier has been getting paper invoices and was being charged on a credit card, which a minority of the companies use, according to bridge officials, who are trying to encourage customers to sign up for permanent accounts.
“I’ll get an invoice in the mail that they crossed and sometimes it’s not our truck, it’s not our licence plates, it’s nowhere near who we are, but they just take it off your credit card,” Monteforte said.
If using a credit card, users must agree to put up $500 along with a $25 administration fee to cover the bridge’s own transaction costs. With each crossing money is deducted and when the balance hits $50 another $500 plus $25 is added.
Monteforte also complained about the difficulty of reaching Ambassador Bridge staff to complain about errors.
“I’ve left messages, nobody calls me back,” she said but added eventually invoices are corrected. “I’ve never had a problem getting it taken off of our account.”
Independent London-based owner/operator Ralph Allen called the system “an ordeal.”
He signed up for an account through his credit card and was billed 17 times “all at once” and 14 of those “were not mine” with some charges for companies as far away as Illinois.
“So it took about five weeks to get this straightened out, you can’t get them on the phone,” he said. “Actually e-mail is the only way you can get a hold of them.”
Allen was so put off he now refuses to use the Ambassador Bridge, opting instead for the Blue Water Bridge between Sarnia and Port Huron.
Danny Kang, operations manager of Ranger Truck Lines in Brampton, Ont., which hauls mixed freight and whose trucks cross the Ambassador as many as 30 times a week, said his company was also a victim of false billings and said larger firms are especially vulnerable because their accounts are larger and more detailed.
“We had to get some corrected but you know when there’s so many (trucks) going through it’s really hard to catch every single one,” he said.
Ambassador Bridge officials admit there were teething problems after the system opened this spring.
“There were problems at the beginning,” said Stan Korosec, the bridge’s director of security and government relations. “I fully admit to that but I think we’re getting better now.”
The same, he said, might explain delays in the company responding to complaints. “We had a lot of issues in the beginning that (staff) had to work through so they were probably swamped,” he said.
Korosec said the bridge processes more than 10,000 transactions a day so some errors will occur.
But bridge officials said the vast majority of problems are related to the fact drivers have not signed up for permanent accounts where billing is sent weekly by e-mail, a more efficient and transparent method.
Bridge chief financial officer Peter Farah called that system “in my mind 100% foolproof.”
He said where most errors occur is when users don’t have RFID tags and where photos of their licence plates or company names and USDOT numbers are instead used for billing.
In these cases bridge staff have to individually track the users down, sometimes by looking up company internet sites or even through phone books, finding addresses and billing accordingly. That’s where mistakes can occur because information may be outdated.
“I’m not saying we’re 100% perfect when it comes to the manual – all I’m saying it leaves it open for potential errors and we double-check all of our work so we’re quite confident we’re sending the proper invoice,” Farah said.
One reason some truckers, especially smaller operators, might not sign up for a permanent account is because of the cost of the initial “security deposit.”
Farah said the deposit is based on the vehicle’s average crossings per month with a minimum charge of $1,000 and if customers are delinquent the bridge can draw from it. “But again it’s their money and they get it back when they leave,” he said.