Cost drives 401 sign user away

The Chatham Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - ELLWOOD SHREVE

The com­pany that in­stalls, fi­nances and man­ages the signs on On­tario’s high­ways that ad­ver­tise tourism-style busi­nesses is more than dou­bling the prices.

An­nual rates for the tourism-ori­ented di­rec­tional sign­ing (TODS) pro­gram have been $300 a year since 1997, said an email from Randy Ni­chols, gen­eral man­ager of Cana­dian TODS Ltd., which man­ages the pro­gram un­der the su­per­vi­sion of the Min­istry of Cul­ture, Tourism and Sport and the Min­istry of Trans­porta­tion.

Ni­chols said the new an­nual fee is $750 per sign ef­fec­tive Jan. 1 across the prov­ince.

Brian Gi­rard, owner of Dut­ton Mead­ows Golf Club in Dut­ton, was shocked when he opened his lat­est TODS bill to find the cost has soared to $1,695, in­clud­ing $195 HST, up from $678, in­clud­ing $78 HST. The cost cov­ers hav­ing a sign on both the east- and west­bound lanes of High­way 401 and two ramp signs point­ing mo­torists to the di­rec­tion the golf course is lo­cated.

Gi­rard said he is ex­it­ing the pro­gram.

“I can­not, for prin­ci­ple rea­sons, keep go­ing,” he said.

Hav­ing been a cus­tomer since the pro­gram be­gan, Gi­rard said he be­lieves in the signs but is not happy with the way the cost is sud­denly ris­ing.

“That’s bad busi­ness if they didn’t in­crease (prices) over time,“said Gi­rard, not­ing he in­cre­men­tally in­creases prices for his busi­ness on an an­nual ba­sis to ac­count for in­fla­tion. “How many busi­nesses do you know that can raise prices this much and still say they’re in busi­ness?”

An­other is­sue Gi­rard has is the fact there is a mo­nop­oly on the TODS pro­gram.

“We have no choice. This is the only com­pany we can go with.”

An email from the Tourism Min­istry said Cana­dian TODS Ltd. has been se­lected as the suc­cess­ful ven­dor to de­liver On­tario’s high­way’s sig­nage pro­gram from Jan. 1 on­ward af­ter an open and com­pet­i­tive pro­cure­ment process.

The min­istry also noted prices will not in­crease again for the du­ra­tion of the con­tract, un­til at least 2028.

“We un­der­stand that a well-de­vel­oped high­way sig­nage sys­tem is fun­da­men­tal to at­tract cus­tomers to sup­port lo­cal tourism busi­nesses,” stated the min­istry. “Our goal is to achieve a modern, ef­fi­cient and a fair mar­ket value tourism sig­nage sys­tem that will at­tract more vis­i­tors to our com­mu­ni­ties, pro­vide value to tax­pay­ers and main­tain safety stan­dards.”

The min­istry said it is mon­i­tor­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the new con­tract and is reg­u­larly in con­tact with Cana­dian TODS. The min­istry is aware that many clients are un­der­stand­ing of the in­crease, the email added.

Gi­rard ques­tions if many TODS pro­gram cus­tomers are aware of the price in­crease.

All ex­ist­ing con­tracts ex­pire Dec. 31 and new con­tracts have been dis­trib­uted to those lo­ca­tions that qual­ify for par­tic­i­pa­tion, and field ac­count man­agers are fol­low­ing up with their clients, Ni­chols said.

How­ever, two Chatham-Kent busi­nesses in the pro­gram were not aware of an im­pend­ing price in­crease when con­tacted.

Up­grades are com­ing with ris­ing cost, ac­cord­ing to Ni­chols. He said the ex­ist­ing TODS struc­tures are sched­uled to be up­graded from wood sup­port sys­tems to steel.

“The ac­tual sign faces are also sched­uled to be re­fur­bished and up­graded to the new Type 3 retro-re­flec­tive ma­te­ri­als for higher vis­i­bil­ity and ex­tended life,” he added.

Ni­chols said an­other added value for par­tic­i­pants is a free travel app that will be re­leased for both Ap­ple and An­droid de­vices.

“Par­tic­i­pants will have their lo­ca­tion name, ad­dress, lo­cal tele­phone num­ber and web­site ad­dress in­cluded in the app at no ad­di­tional charge,” he said. “Trav­ellers will be able to lo­cate in­di­vid­ual par­tic­i­pants or a spe­cific par­tic­i­pant cat­e­gory by free­way and in­ter­change, and even be di­rected right to their front door.”

Gi­rard said it ap­pears the com­pany is try­ing to do catchup for the pro­gram. He be­lieves long­time cus­tomers should be put on a grand­fa­ther-type pro­gram to have the price in­crease grad­u­ally, rather than all at once.

Ni­chols said, “Even with the price in­crease, the TODS pro­gram still re­mains a tremen­dous value.”

He added in the case of Gi­rard’s busi­ness, the cost per sign per day is only $2.05.

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