Big price hike for Ontario highway tourism signs

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Brian Girard, owner of Dutton Meadows Golf Club is opting out of the Tourism-Oriented Directional Signing program after he discovered the cost per sign has sudden risen to $750 from the $300 he has been paying since 1997. Photo taken near Dutton, Ont. on Wednesday December 5, 2018. Ellwood Shreve/Chatham Daily News/Postmedia Network

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

Annual participation rates for the TODS (Tourism-Oriented Directional Signing) program have been $300 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 (MTCS) and Ministry of Transportation.

Nichols said the new annual fee is $750 per sign effective Jan. 1, 2019 across the province.

Brian Girard, owner of Dutton Meadows Golf Club, in Dutton, was shocked when he opened his latest TODS program 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 includes two ramp signs pointing motorists to the direction the golf course is located.

Girard told The Chatham Daily News 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.

Noting he incrementally increases prices for his business on an annual basis to account for inflation, Girard said, “That’s bad business if they didn’t increase (prices) over time.

“How many businesses do you know that can raise prices this much and still say they’re in business?” he added.

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 MTCS said Canadian TODS has been selected as the successful vendor to deliver Ontario’s highway’s signage program from Jan. 1, 2019 onwards 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 MTCS. “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 is also monitoring the implementation of the new contract and is regularly in contact with Canadian TODS. MTCS 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 who qualify for participation, and field account managers are following up with their clients, Nichols said.

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

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. “Travelers 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 a catch-up program now.

He believes long-time 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.