No-show snow removal by Ottawa business unacceptable, Barrhaven resident says

Barrhaven resident Rina Gibbons says she spent hours shovelling her driveway after a local snow removal company she paid for was a no-show during this week's winter storm. Christopher Whan / Global News

A Barrhaven resident is calling out a local private snow removal company saying Metro Snow and Ice Management left her high and dry during this week’s winter storm and isn’t responding to her messages.

Online reviews of the company posted this week and last winter by people claiming to be customers suggest Rina Gibbons isn’t the only Metro client in Ottawa who feels jilted. But the firm’s owner, Ken Dale, is defending his track record, claiming the company does get all clients’ driveways cleared, but sometimes this doesn’t happen as fast as some customers expect.

While Dale acknowledges that communication can be difficult, especially on heavy snow days, he insists he has taken steps to improve service.

Gibbons says she’s speaking out because she doesn’t believe that’s the case and she doesn’t think it’s right for a company not to deliver on an expensive service when its customers need it most.

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No service or response from snow removal company, resident claims

Gibbons, who said she contracted and paid Metro in the fall, said the company did clear her driveway twice after light snowfalls earlier this winter. But she claims the snow removal company has been a no-show since a large and snowy winter storm hit Ottawa on Wednesday, leaving her no choice but to shovel her driveway two days in a row.

“My parents have a different company, their driveway had already been done twice that day,” Gibbons said in an interview on Friday.

WATCH: Dig out begins after first major winter storm (Jan. 21, 2019)
Click to play video: 'Dig out begins after first major winter storm'
Dig out begins after first major winter storm

Gibbons’ contract with Metro states “multiple visits will be scheduled for snowfalls over 10 centimetres.” Environment Canada statistics online show 25 centimetres of snow fell in Ottawa on Wednesday.

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The contract says a “final laneway clearing run will usually take place within approximately 4-6 hours after the city plows have gone by,” but that “excessive winds, delays in city street plowing activity, too many cars parked in the laneway or other unusual conditions may cause this to be extended.”

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Gibbons says Metro hasn’t responded to four emails she’s sent since Wednesday — messages she showed to Global News. She called twice as well, she said, but hit voicemail. She’s received no response to date even though the company regularly sends out general customer service emails, she said.

Gibbons doesn’t appear to be alone with her complaints. A number of people claiming to be Metro customers have taken to Google Reviews and review website this past week, echoing many of the same issues.

While researching the local firm, Gibbons said she did notice negative reviews online about Metro’s service last winter. After discussing those problems with an employee and hearing their proposed changes for this season, Gibbons said she decided they deserved a chance — especially because several of her neighbours had Metro stakes and she figured this would ensure she’d get service.

Now, she said, she’s having regrets and is left wondering what the rest of the winter will be like for her.

“I would really like to hear back from the company just to find out what’s happening because right now it’s money down the drain,” Gibbons said.

Company owner responds

Dale insists his clients’ laneways get cleared out “within the timeframes contracted for” and are notified “continually” of any delays or issues, but he acknowledged the company doesn’t respond to every email and phone call.

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Dale says he has 10 customer service representatives on staff answering messages from clients, but when one customer sends multiple emails or complaints, staff won’t necessarily answer all of them, he says.

“This isn’t Pizza Pizza, it’s not a ’30-minutes-or-it’s-free’ business,” Dale said.

While he acknowledges it can be frustrating to have to wait for a plow, Dale said he has 5,000 other customers who also need their laneways cleared.

He argued snow removal jobs are also often a guessing game because the City of Ottawa no longer publicizes its plowing routes in real-time.

“I’m hoping to meet with councillors in my areas and city staff to come to some solution about better communication and rationale to this ongoing issue,” Dale said. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years and [was] actively involved in setting up the Ottawa Snow Contractor Association to address ongoing snow clearing issues with the city.”

Metro’s profile on the Better Business Bureau website says 56 complaints have been filed against the company in three years — but the owner believes they are the minority.

“Two per cent of the people are making 98 per cent of the noise,” Dale said in a phone interview. “We try to keep it in perspective. It’s a frustrating business but we are always very calm about it.”

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The local business owner says he and his staff do a post-mortem after every snowstorm, evaluating performance by office employees as well as the drivers and plows.

He says he also made changes in response to complaints lodged last year, among them decreasing the client-to-tractor ratio from one per 150 clients to one per 120 customers.

Dale says it’s tough to lower the ratio even further, considering how difficult it can be to find people willing to do the job.

In a statement Friday, the City of Ottawa said it powered down an app it piloted called ‘Where Is My Plow’ in 2016 after residents complained the GPS tool didn’t cover Ottawa’s major road network.

The city noted the app’s “limited network coverage … made it less effective as a public facing service.”

When it comes to municipal snow removal services, the city says Ottawa residents can expect major and arterial roads to be cleared “within four hours of the last snowflake falling.”

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“Minor roads will be cleared within six hours of the end of accumulation, and residential roads and lanes are cleared within 16 hours,” the statement said.

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