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Rules & regulations

How to use Ontario’s toll highways

High-speed expressways are great for going long distances. You can significantly cut your driving time thanks to the 100km/h speed limits and fewer intersections or traffic lights, depending on the route.

Remember: you can drive on Ontario’s expressways and 400-series highways only after you get your G2 licence.
 

The 400-series highways

These highways plus Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) form a network along southern Ontario, conveniently bringing commuters in and out of the Greater Toronto Area as well as to the United States. But some of these highways can get painfully slow, especially during peak traffic hours.

The 407 Express Toll Route

The 407 ETR was built to relieve the strain on these roads. So if you’re travelling east-west, but aren’t up for sitting in traffic on the busiest highway in North America (the 401,) then consider paying to use the less-clogged 407 ETR.

The privately owned 407 ETR runs 108 km from Burlington in the west to Pickering in the east. Ontario is planning to extend the highway eastward and provide a north-south link from the 407 ETR to the 401 near Oshawa. The government will collect tolls on those extensions when they’re completed, but for now, it’s 407 International Inc. who will charge you to use their ETR.

What you need to know about toll highways:

How is the toll calculated?

There are no manual tollbooths on the ETR. When you enter and exit the 407, you drive under a bridge-like platform called a gantry. The platform carries cameras that take images of your licence plate to automatically record the start and end of your trip. You’ll get your toll bill in the mail later, rather than having to stop and pay the fees along the way.

How much is the toll?

407 ETR rates vary from around 20¢/km to 35¢/km depending on when you use the toll route. You’ll also have to pay a Video Toll Charge of around $4 per trip and a $3.55 monthly account fee. You can skip the Video Toll Charge by getting a device called a transponder for your car. Use the current rate chart and the toll calculator before each trip to decide whether it’s worth it for you to use the express route. The toll could range from $5 to $38 depending on when and how far you drive on the ETR.

What is a transponder?

If you plan to use the 407 ETR for more than four round trips per year, it makes sense to avoid the Video Toll Charge by using a transponder - a small electronic box that fits behind your rearview mirror. The device has an identification signal that’s picked up by entry and exit sensors on the 407 gantries. This way the cameras don’t need to record your licence plates so you avoid the extra charges. You can order a transponder online and will have to pay a monthly/annual transponder fee to lease it.

Is the 407 ETR worth it?

According to one study, commuters saved nearly half an hour a day by using the 407. It also gave them more predictable travel times than the free roadways –so drivers knew if they’d get home in time for dinner, for example. For some people that’s worth the extra bucks - for others, not so much.

What happens if I don’t pay the toll?

The 407 ETR will follow a procedure to send you a Notice of Plate Denial if you do not pay their bill. This means you won’t be able to renew your licence plate or obtain a new plate until you pay all tolls, fees and interest (Believe me - the interest can add up over time – you do not want to rack up a $43,000 bill like this one guy.) You will have to pay an extra Enforcement Fee as well.

Are there any other benefits?

Folks up at the 407 ETR have tried to encourage more drivers to use the toll route by offering incentives to regular customers through their rewards program. You could get free kilometres on the ETR and save money on your gas bills if you qualify for their program.

 
Avoid the 407 ETR if you’re driving a rented car. The bill is automatically sent to the rental company, who may tack on a $10 to $60 processing fee when they forward the bill to you. Find out their fees before you rent or ask for a car with a transponder if you think you’ll be using toll routes.

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Honor joined ingenie in 2014 and is in charge of words on the Young Driver's Guide and blog. She started learning to drive last year, at the age of 24.