Drivers beware: quietly, almost furtively, the Ontario Service Centres on the 400 and the 401 are closing. If you’ve ever driven long distances on either of these highways (particularly the 401), you know this situation is problematic because these rest and refuelling stations have probably saved you from a close call with a near-empty gas tank. But don’t fret: the Service Centres aren’t closing for good; the Ontario government is letting the current operating leases expire so that it can renew all existing (and recently expired) contracts under one operator, instead of under the current consortium of oil companies. More importantly, most of the stations were built in the 1960s and the government wants a new operator to re-vamp the locations in order to make them capable of offering services up-to-par with twenty-first century expectations.
A closed Tilbury Service Centre. Photo by Jamie Bradburn/Torontoist.
According to Bob Nichols at the Ministry of Transportation, the leases were scheduled to begin expiring in 2007, but the province requested contract extensions. During this respite, Infrastructure Ontario submitted an RFP (Request for Proposals) for the lease takeovers, but no interest was reflected. Since then, the government has worked hard to find a new operator, and Nichols says a decision will be made in April. Unfortunately, even if that news came today, the renovations will take time (months, hopefully not years). Until then, Nichols says the Ministry is “working hard to minimize the impact on the travelling public during this transition” and has set up make-shift bathroom facilities and rest areas for cars (but no gas or hot food is available).
Because the Service Centres are typically found in locations far from Toronto, the media here has provided very little coverage of the closures. But that doesn’t mean that someone from this neck of the woods will never drive past one, expecting (or worse, needing) it to be open. For these people, Nichols says the Ministry has set up signs to advise drivers that the Centres are closed; unfortunately, drivers may not notice them because they don’t know that they should be on the lookout. Consider yourself officially warned.