Claim adjusters with Manitoba Public Insurance are no longer driving to 20 rural communities.
The MPI employees, who provide estimates on a driver’s insurance claim, are now only visiting communities with accredited repair shops.
In an internal document obtained by The Brandon Sun, MPI explained the move will "ease travel time for our customers" because drivers will "likely only have to travel once" to learn their estimate and get their vehicle repaired, instead of making two appointments.
"I can’t see it," replied Dwayne Wasylenko, owner/operator of Sandy Lake Auto Service, when asked about MPI’s reasoning.
He knows a number of people who have driven 30 minutes to Shoal Lake to get their vehicle appraised — and then drove home without the repair. They have to schedule another drive into Shoal Lake, or elsewhere, because the repair could not be completed then.
Before the rules changed this fall, a quick drive into the community to meet the adjuster was sufficient for Sandy Lake residents. Another appointment would be scheduled farther away to get the vehicle repaired.
"You’ll have more people driving home with their vehicle now, instead of leaving it at the body shop that day you got it adjusted," Wasylenko said. "It’s not going to save me any time."
Wasylenko was told he would have to drive his camper trailer, which sustained small damage in an electrical fire this fall, to Brandon for an inspection — a trip that will cost him time and money.
In western Manitoba, estimators are no longer visiting Sandy Lake, Rossburn, St. Lazare, Birtle, Cartwright, Rapid City, Rivers, Oak Lake, Elkhorn, Ninette, Baldur, Reston and Hartney.
The change began in September, according to MPI.
Elkhorn tow truck driver Bill Bickerton is baffled by the move, which he figures will cost MPI more money.
Previously, damaged vehicles near the community could stay at his Elkhorn Auto compound until the estimator arrived and then be taken to the body shop of the driver’s choosing.
However, those vehicles will now be towed farther to Virden’s closest towing company — approximately a dozen kilometres west of the community, Bickerton said — because Virden has an accredited repair shop unlike Elkhorn. Once an estimate is calculated, the vehicle will be towed to any body shop, likely into Virden.
"The way they’re doing it now, in our perspective, it’s costing them more," Bickerton said. "Instead of having one guy come out to adjust five vehicles here, they’re paying for five tows to this other tow company, and then he still turns around and has to tow them into Virden."
Eventually, Bickerton imagines his tow truck company may receive less phone calls.
He expects his company will end up towing less vehicles infested with mice, too, losing out on thousands of dollars a year.
His son Paul, who runs Bick’s Auto and OK Tire in Elkhorn, believes MPI is creating an unnecessary middleman by preventing his father from towing vehicles to whichever auto shop.
"It’s going to get expensive," he said of his father towing to another tow truck yard. "Your MPI rates are going to go up," he said.
When asked to comment on local concerns, MPI spokesperson Brian Smiley said Friday he was unavailable for a phone interview.
In a statement, he expressed that MPI’s decision to discontinue mobile estimating services has "improved overall service for customers by offering one-stop appointments for customers."
This consolidation, he said, would further improve service when MPI launches its Direct Repair program next year, where customers with qualifying claims can attend the accredited repair shop of their choice for an estimate.
"These changes also result in more efficient use of MPI estimators by increasing the availability of appointments in communities with accredited repair shops."
The Direct Repair program currently exists in a minimalized capacity as a pilot program, Smiley said.
Ron Schuler, the minister in charge of MPI, said the move falls in line with the province’s commitment to "prudent fiscal management."
"While we do not interfere with the day-to-day operations of MPI, we support their decision to streamline their business operations in a fiscal and efficient manner," Schuler said in a statement.
The other communities MPI’s estimators no longer attend are St. Martin, Gypsumville, Lundar and St. Laurent in the Interlake and Vita, Piney and Elma in eastern Manitoba.
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