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It may be stated to the credit of the utilities that they are showing a rapidly increasing readiness to more than meet the Commission half way in its efforts to bring about an adjustment satisfactory to the patron, and equitable to the utility company.
The informal complaint service of the Commission has frequently demonstrated to the companies that it is more important to the utility to have a satisfied clientele than to exact the last penny in settlement of a bill of dubious nature, or the arbitrary enforcement of a rule of service, or extension of its lines or mains.
A gratifying feature of the handling of these informal complaints by the experts of the Commission is the fact that 75 per cent of all complaints during the last fiscal year have been settled favorably to the complainants, and in the bulk of the remainder the patron cheerfully accepted the adjustments of the Commission, even though not favorable to his or her claim.
An account of the number of informal complaints handled by the various departments of the Commission will be found included in the respective chapters of this report.
METHOD OF PROCEDURE. Informal complaints may be made by telephone, letter, postal card or personal interview, it being the design of the Commission to make this department readily accessible to the public and free of technical procedure. The procedure is defined as follows:
Whenever an informal or correspondence complaint is filed, the matter is at once referred to the appropriate department, which takes up the matter with the utility affected, either by letter or in person, to see whether an adjustment can not be made voluntarily. If necessary a representative of the Railroad Commission travels to the locality affected to secure first-hand information and an adjustment, if possible. While the Commission can not without the formal hearing, at which the public utility has its day in court, compel a public utility to take action on any complaint, the Commission has been successful in a large majority of informal complaints in securing an adjustment without the necessity of formal proceedings.
INFORMAL COMPLAINTS BY YEARS. Since the handling of informal complaints was made a departmental function on January 1, 1912, such complaints, including 5493 for the year under review, reached a total of 35,739, distributed according to fiscal years, as follows: January 1, 1912, to June 30, 1912, inclusive. July 1, 1912, to June 30, 1913, inclusive.. July 1, 1913, to June 30, 1914, inclusive. July 1, 1914, to June 30, 1915, inclusive. July 1, 1915, to June 30, 1916, inclusive.. July 1, 1916, to June 30, 1917, inclusiveJuly 1, 1917, to June 30, 1918, inclusiveJuly 1, 1918, to June 30, 1919, inclusive. July 1, 1919, to June 30, 1920, inclusive.. July 1, 1920, to June 30, 1921, inclusive.. July 1, 1921, to June 30, 1922, inclusive. July 1, 1922, to June 30, 1923, inclusive.
245 1,381 2,288 2,382 3,039 2,614 2,423 2,312 2,663 4,888 4.950
SEGREGATION OF COMPLAINTS. Segregated according to subject and utility, complaints for the period from July 1, 1922, to June 30, 1923, are shown in the following tabulation:
INFORMAL COMPLAINTS FILED WITH THE RAILROAD COMMISSION, YEAR ENDING JUNE 30 1923.
DISPUTED BILLS. The Railroad Commission performs another valuable service to public utility patrons through the adjustment of disputed bills. Since 1916 the Commission has discontinued the practice of public utilities of discontinuing service to a consumer on account of nonpayment of a disputed account for service rendered. Under the rules of the Railroad Commission the consumer may deposit the amount of the disputed bill with the Commission, pending an adjustment of the claim. The Commission's experts make a painstaking investigation into all such accounts, and after determining the equitable amount to which the utility is entitled, distributes the deposit in conformity with this finding. This prevents injustice to the consumer, and assures the public utility receiving proper remuneration for the service actually rendered. Since this procedure was inaugurated in 1916 many thousands of dollars have been refunded to consumers who were found by the Commission to be entitled to receive the same.
Following is a statement showing the number of deposits received for disputed bills by years since May 23, 1916:
May 23, 1916, to June 30, 1916, inclusive..
76 173 157 317 253 330 496 340
Deposits received for the period of July 1, 1922, to June 30, 1923, inclusive, tabulation as to class of utilities and amounts were as follows:
INFORMAL COMPLAINTS. The Commission receives hundreds of informal complaints concerning the rates and practices of public utilities and the Rate Department handled informal complaints for the last fiscal year as follows:
The Rate Department is the medium of communication between the public and the carriers in all informal matters, and a representative appears at formal hearings to examine witnesses of all litigants in order to bring out all of the facts regarding each individual case. The Rate Department is in daily conference with the public and the carriers in regard to matters coming within the purview of its jurisdiction and many complaints are thus satisfactorily and amicably settled which would otherwise reach a formal stage. In many instances, by a proper explanation to a complainant the complaint is withdrawn. On the other hand, where a meritorious complaint is made the carriers often remove the cause informally at the simple request of the Commission.
The total number of informal complaints handled by the gas and electric division continues to increase, but it is noticeable that complaints containing charges of a serious nature are diminishing. Gas, electric and steam utilities with few exceptions are now governed in their relations with consumers by uniform rules and regulations formulated in accord with the views of the Commission. The excellent spirit of co-operation now existing between these utilities, the Commission, and the many civic bodies interested in public welfare has also done much toward removing causes for serious complaint.
The number of informal complaints, and routine matters coming before this division during the fiscal year ending June 30, 1923, is as follows: Number of informal complaints received Number of informal complaints disposed of. Miscellaneous written inquiries. Persons calling at office of division relative to informal matters. Letters written by division on informal matters -Amount deposited by consumers pending adjustment of bills..
1,378 1,012 3,758 4,128 5,670
The above figures do not include several hundred complaints made to the Commission by telephone, which, in turn, were handled with the companies by telephone.
Of the 1378 informal complaints received by the gas and electric division, nearly 75 per cent were decided in favor of the consumers, the balance being either withdrawn by the complainants or adjusted in favor of the utilities. The average time elapsing between receipt and settlement of a complaint was ten days. This short time is worthy of note, as many of the complaints involved personal investigation and some developed correspondence more voluminous than that of many formal matters.
The informal complaints received can be classified into those involving the quality of service, those attacking rate schedules, those protesting against the refusal of companies to extend gas or steam mains and electric lines, and those questioning the fairness of individual bills. This classification is as follows:
COMPLAINTS ON PERCENTAGE BASIS. Below are shown the record of the larger companies in the matter of complaints. A comparison is drawn by reducing the total number of complaints to the number per thousand consumers.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company...
39 84 41 49 31 19 22 14 29 14 55
59 56 50
57 1.41 1.35 1.26 1.88 2.11 8.45 1.33 3.18 2.74 9.20 5.60
COMPLAINTS AND OTHER MATTERS HANDLED INFORMALLY. The informal complaint is the means whereby the consumer of small quantities of water may have his differences investigated by the Commission without the formality, expense and delay of a formal complaint. If it were necessary for the Commission to hold a public hearing in connection with an informal complaint, the average complainant would probably let the matter drop rather than go to this trouble, as most people have a natural aversion to anything in the nature of court procedure. Realizing this, the hydraulic division in handling informal complaints invariably endeavors to be of as much service as possible to the informal complainant. Investigations by the hydraulic engineers are frequently required, and extremely careful consideration is necessary in determining an equitable solution of the difficulties of the consumer who is not familiar with the practices of the Commission or the utilities.
Frequently complaints which at first appear small, later assume considerable proportions, and upon investigation it may be found that a large portion of the plant of the utility complained of is of insufficient capacity to render adequate service. In many instances, upon the recommendation of the investigating engineer, utilities have made improvements in their systems amounting to thousands of dollars.
In some cases a complaint will be made questioning the right of a utility to collect the cost of making extensions of mains, or of installing service connections and meters. Upon investigation it has frequently