Toronto jumps into water e-billing service

Toronto just grabbed the distinction of being the first Canuck municipality to offer its constituents their water bills electronically.

EPOST – Canada Post’s electronic post office service – will deliver Toronto water bills electronically to those of the city’s estimated 600,000 billable residents who register for the service.

“The water bill initiative came out of discussions [with EPOST] as an easier project to tackle, but still massive enough to make it a worthy pilot,” said Cindy Bromley, the communications finance manager for the City of Toronto. “Our goal is to bring in 23,000 (electronic) accounts. The City issues 30,000 bills weekly, so this is a good project for us to embark upon.”

Bromley added the possible savings the City could see won’t be known for some time.

“Corporations don’t see huge savings (from e-business initiatives) until they see a huge conversion rate in their client base.”

TO residents who wish to receive and pay their water bill on-line need to register for a free EPOST mailbox. By selecting the City of Toronto as a preferred mailer, users will then begin receiving their bills in their EPOB (electronic post office box). When making a payment, users simply open the e-mailed bill, which offers a summary of at the top of the e-document. By clicking on the summary tab, more information on the bill (past and present) can be viewed. Once satisfied with the charges and ready to pay on-line, recipients then hit the EPOST Internet banking tab and select their bank. Residents who sign up for this program will have the traditional paper-based water bill suppressed.

“The Government of Canada initiated this program as a means to connect Canadians with on-line government services,” said EPOST spokesperson Sarah Gambrill in Toronto. “For the moment, [water bills are] all we are handling for the City of Toronto, (but) we are hoping to expand.”

The joint venture was made possible through a federal government project dubbed Service Canada, which aims to offer one-stop access to government services. EPOST was chosen by Service Canada to develop the water e-bill program with Canada’s most populous city.

“This is the first step in the City of Toronto’s electronic service delivery strategy,” said Toronto mayor Mel Lastman during an Aug. 2 media conference. “This water e-bill puts us on the cutting edge of Internet technology.”

A recent Angus Reid study revealed that 59 per cent of Canadians have Internet access, and of those people, 47 per cent are interested in making bill payments on-line rather than by traditional means.

“It’s the way of the world in terms of e-services,” said industry analyst Jordan Worth of IDC Canada in Toronto. “The greater amount of public services that a municipality or any government can offer its constituents in an on-line environment can only be to the benefit of both.”

Bromley added Toronto intends to offer its residents the opportunity to pay tax bills on-line next year, followed by plans to enable any financial transaction with the City to be conducted via the Internet.

“Whether it’s registering for a building permit or paying a parking ticket,” she said. “We’ve just issued a request for proposals for a corporation to build our e-business architecture…we want to offer our residents easier access to the City’s services.”

Although there are no imminent plans for EPOST to offer similar services to other major Canadian cities, Gambrill said the organization is interested in pursuing those initiatives on a national scale.