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Peoples Gas Journal

This is a copy of an e-mail that I sent out to a handful of friends on Tuesday afternoon - with two of the replies I got back. The dialogue with the Peoples representative has been smartly edited for clarity and comedy, but it's almost all exactly how it went down.

*

Peoples Gas sucks so hard . . . it's like in a third-world country where they call the name of some nationalized industry Peoples Steel or Peoples Television.

So I got a notice in the mail that I had not responded to an earlier notice about a federally mandated meter inspection. Well, I don't own the building!

Plus, they had my apartment number wrong. Have I been paying for someone else's gas? Is that why my bills went up so much starting last spring? I pay more for taxes than on actual gas! I barely use any therms at all! (I don't pay for heat.)

So I called up to ask about this and I couldn't get to a human no matter what numbers I pressed. Finally I screamed into the phone "How about what number to press to talk to a fucking human!"

"We will connect with an operator."

It worked!

ME: Um, I was just wondering . . . there are only four units in this building, it's a house. Our meters are all in the basement right next to each other. Do we all need to schedule an appointment?

PEOPLES GAS: If you got a letter, you need to schedule an appointment.

ME: Well, can't the guy just look at the meters all at once? We could save him three trips!

PEOPLES GAS: If you got a letter, you need to schedule an appointment.

ME: In Russia, the appointment schedules you!

PEOPLES GAS: Let me look up your account. Can you give me the last four numbers of your social?

ME: You mean you don't know who this is? I'm the guy who got the letter! Do people schedule fake appointments?

PEOPLES GAS: And your cell phone number.

ME: Why, are you going to sext me?

PEOPLES GAS: If you got the letter, you have to schedule an appointment.

ME: I was just concerned because the apartment letter was wrong. I mean, do all four of us really have to set aside a different two-hour window to get our meters read? Maybe the letter wasn't meant for me. And maybe I'm being billed for someone else's gas.

PEOPLES GAS: Do you use gas?

ME: Barely. I don't pay heat. But my bill has skyrocketed.

PEOPLES GAS: You don't take hot or cold showers?

ME: Not three times as many as I used to!

PEOPLES GAS: You have a credit right now.

ME: Huh?

PEOPLES GAS: And you get billed every two months.

ME: I get a bill every month!

PEOPLES GAS: If you got a letter, you have to schedule an appointment.

ME: My apartment is 3E, or just 3. You have 3A.

PEOPLES GAS: Are there two apartments on the third floor?

ME: Yes. Three East and Three West.

PEOPLES GAS: Maybe we call them A and B.

ME: Maybe!

PEOPLES GAS: Would you like to schedule an appointment?

ME: No, I'll do that on the internet.

PEOPLES GAS: Is there anything else I can help you with?

ME: No, this conversation has only confused the matter. I'll seek help elsewhere.

I then scheduled an appointment on the Peoples website, but I'm pretty sure that appointment is with North Shore Gas, because that's all the website would allow. Oh well, I don't plan on being home when they come anyway.

*

UPDATE: I was home for the appointment. Peoples Gas never showed up.

*

REPLY FROM FRIEND 1: I've received the same letter and had the same conversation - twice. The same thing happened both times: scheduled my appointment (I got tired of the threats), explained to the nice People's Gas handyman that I don't have access to the meters (they're in the basement and I don't have a key - a fact I always try to explain to the operators when making appointment). Once, my landlord was around and let the guy in. The other time, the People's Gas guy said he would take care of it. I also felt/feel like I might be paying for my landlord's gas. My bills are crazy. But, the operators I talk to say no, and my landlord of course says no. I have no way of knowing.

REPLY FROM FRIEND 2: When I lived on LeMoyne my first gas bill was for roughly 3 grand. I, needles to say was blown away by it. I never got any answers over the phone and finally went to the gas company to find out what was going on. After dealing with the first tier customer service who couldn't help they called a supervisor over. I was advised it was under review and should just pay the current charges. Never mind the fact that it appeared on my credit rating as an unpaid debt. I asked how they could charge it to me since it was obviously the owners bill and my account was a new account. Their advice again was to pay the current charges so that my gas wouldn't be turned off. I complained to my landlord who managed the building for the owner and that was useless. This went on for TWO YEARS and I still believe it would still be going on if one of the local news stations during May sweeps hadn't covered a similar problem on the air.

COMMENT 2:19 P.M.: A Beachwood reader writes:

For the guy who thinks his gas is being used by another unit, tell him to shut off the gas when it's a bit warmer & put his own padlock on the meter. Then see what happens!

READER TALE 1: Marianna Swallow writes:

Oh, boy, how do I make this short? I've had to reiterate this tale for the State's Attorney as well as the book I'm writing, not to mention all the legal documentation I was doing to try to get my effing PG debacle straightened out. So, I'll give you the Reader's Digest version, best I can.

1. May, 2007. I buy a brand new condo (new construction - bad mistake!) in a new, 4-unit building. There is a Garden Unit, then 1, 2, 3. I'm on the top, so I'm 3. I set up my gas service.

2. We (husband and I) pay every bill we get.

3. January, 2008. Peoples Gas turns off all gas - we can't cook and we're FREEZING. We make emergency call at 9 p.m. We are told that we never paid a bill. Technician comes out at 10:30, tells us this happens all the time - they crossed our meter with an unoccupied unit (that the builder never bothered to pay the bills on.). Technician tells us he'll make a report, report will then fix this problem. We have gas again.

4. March, 2008. Gas turned off again. Same scenario, calls, technicians. (the tech from Jan. never filed said report. what a shocker!) I call PG in the a.m., LIVID, demanding a supervisor, and demanding they fix this. "We'll send a technician out."

5. Technician (named Kirk) is an absolute asshole. Huffs at me when I ask for identification. Takes one look at the meters, and says, "Yeah, they're crossed. I'll file a report . . . blah blah blah."

6. I call customer service to make sure this is being taken care of. Of course it is! they say. To make sure, I send a written letter to the CEO (who now works for Obama) as well as customer service.

7. July, 2008. Same thing. Here we go again. This time, more calls, I will only speak to a customer service supervisor, and this time I deal with a woman named Rachel, who sees that, yes, indeed, I did pay, they did mix up our meters, she's so sorry. She informs me it will take 1-2 billing cycles for this to correct, so just hang onto any bills I get until the *right* meter is billed. Then she says, and I quote: "We will never turn your gas off again, even if you don't pay your bill."

(Can you hear it coming? I can . . . )

8. Sept. 2008 - Gas turned off again. At 10:30 at night, when they won't come out and fix it. (10 p.m. is their cutoff.) The next morning, at work at 6:55 a.m., I am, again, on the phone and livid. I am told they will turn it on, send a technician SUPERVISOR, fix it, yadda yadda yadda. Guess who shows up again to "fix" it? Kirk the asshole.

9. I file a complaint with the State's Attorney and - whiz bang - meter problem is somehow, a year later, miraculously, straightened out. And I have a credit on my account - well deserved, I might add. Apparently, People's Gas calls us "Unit #4" even though, legally, we are "unit 3." This isn't news to me - we explained this on every effing customer service call, and yet they somehow managed to still screw it up - and keep turning off our gas, even though we paid our bills.

P.S. After this was all straightened out? People's Gas sent me a letter informing me that they "inadvertently" reported on me negatively to Equifax. Yes, they are now, supposedly, removing that report. The State's Attorney is aware of this as well.

READER TALE 2: A Beachwood reader writes:

We went through the EXACT same scenario as you a week ago. Same type of multi-unit building, same letter, same inane and unhelpful calls to costumer service, same "if you got a letter, you need to schedule an appointment" BS answer . . . ARRRGG! People's Gas is just terrible.

Just a heads-up to anyone having more serious trouble with this completely dysfunctional utility: the Illinois Commerce Commission has rules in place to protect consumers from PG just cutting off your gas. Find out about your rights here.

READER TALE 3: Jessica writes:

Thank God for this posting. I've lived in Chicago for three years, in three different apartments, and have fought constantly with People's Gas.

In my first apartment - my first time living on my own EVER - I was slapped with a $450 heat bill out of nowhere one month, even though my apartment was by all normal standards tiny, and even though I had the thermostat set at 55 degrees. It really felt more like 30 degrees, as I literally hung out in my apartment in layers, gloves, hats, and 3 pairs of socks. Every time I called, as clueless as a 19-year-old first-time renter would be, they offered no solutions or help, not even suggesting I have my meter read (I had no idea what that meant at the time, anyway, but . . . ) My parents were absolutely clueless, as well, as this is unheard of back home in Kansas. They eventually shut off my gas in the dead of winter because I couldn't pay, and I was convinced I was going to freeze to death. It got so bad at one point that my roommate and I decided to suck it up and sleep in the same bed to share body warmth. Seriously.

I finally called the Citizen's Utility Board, and the rep I spoke with was amazing. She was incredibly sensitive, helpful, and empathetic to my situation as a terrified kid thousands of miles from home just trying to figure out what the heck was going on. She gave me lots of advice and tried to help by calling People's Gas for me and talking to the city about my issues with an unhelpful landlord, but, in the end, I had to take out another student loan to get my heat turned back on. The situation never got resolved, but I think I got the last laugh: My landlord who insisted I just had my thermostat set too high moved his daughter into my apartment after I left. Maybe he'll believe me now?

And I just got that ridiculous threatening letter for the mandated inspection, too. I've been charged too much again for heat in the apartment I'm in now ($60 bill for ONE WEEK in August when I first moved in and also left for vacation. What?) so I'm finally going to schedule that meter reading they owe me and also try to read the meter myself.

Citizen's Utility Board is amazing. I would recommend going to them for ANY questions about utilities. Check out the FAQ and the reading-your-meter fact sheet.

READER TALE 4: A Beachwood reader writes:

Oh boy - Peoples Gas single-handedly destroyed my credit.

2005: I'm 22, just out of college and have moved back to Chicago from Iowa to start my first job making $25K/ year. This is my first apartment after college and I have no idea what a gas bill is supposed to cost. I set up my account and we start getting our monthly bills. But they're only $12.00/month! . . . $12!!! We pay every single bill on time and in full and think nothing of the fact that these bills are so damn inexpensive, because again, I've never had to pay a gas bill before.

After about six months of paying these bills, I receive a notice in the mail that Peoples Gas will be coming around to check the meter. They come out, check the meter, and the following month I get a bill for $1,500.00! Turns out that the meter had been broken since we moved in, and we were now being back-charged for all the gas we'd used over the past 6 months! I was shocked! I was only making $25,000 per year, I couldn't afford such a huge expense.

After several unsuccessful calls to PG customer service dept, trying to get these charges reversed, I was informed that I had to pay the bill, or I would be reported to a collections agency.

How the hell is it my fault that they didn't maintain their meter for 6(+) months!?!?

READER TALE 5: Jimmy writes:

Peoples Gas is the most consumer-unfriendly company I have ever had any dealing with. Every contact with them is a struggle, and an unpleasant one at that.

I could write a book about how bad this company is. Some examples . . .

One time I was having gas service put in and the Peoples Gas employees hit me up for cash to get the job done ("This pipe looks a little loose; you could call a plumber, but it might be awhile before we can get back here. The boys here could save you a lot of time and money and take care of it for you, if you buy them lunch"). Of course there was nothing wrong with the pipes. And it was the usual goon squad of six people who watched while one person worked. $70 and 30 minutes later the horrible problem has been solved.

Another time, the gas in a small apartment building I own as shut off. Must be a mistake, I thought, as I am up to date with my payments. Turns out it was shut off, but no one know why (the typical Peoples Gas scenario). After an hour of being shuttled around, cut off several times and generally abused, I found out that they didn't have a copy of the LLC certificate that the gas was billed to. Mind you, they never asked for the certificate. Nor did they contact me to tell me the gas as being turned off. And - because the service as shut off - it would be 3 DAYS before they could turn it back on. No hot water for 3 days, the tenants sure enjoyed that news. Fortunately, the local alderman and the People Gas PR guy managed to get it cut down to 2 days. Nice work, Peoples Gas.

Then there was the Peoples Gas meter reader who instead of getting buzzed in, would stick his big pry bar in the door and pop the door open, leaving big gouge marks in the wood door. I saw him leave out the back (and asked myself how he got in) then the guy across the street confirmed it was a Peoples Gas meter reader who wrenched the door open. I talked to Peoples Gas Security Dept. and they said "File a police report." I asked my neighbor to do it and he said no way, understandably. Peoples Gas said they talked to the employee (who denied it) and assured me it wouldn't happen again. The next month I'm in the back yard, and he comes out the back door. I knew he broke in again, since I didn't buzz him in. I said People Gas promised me it would never happen again. He said, "So it was you that called my boss. I could have lost my job. You don't know who you are messing with. Where I'm from, things happen to people that mess with other people's jobs" Nothing like being threatened by your local utility worker who thinks it's quite OK to force locks on a routine basis. Peoples Gas did NOTHING to stop this thug from breaking into my building and threatening me.

And, just the other month my check was lost in the mail. Normally that isn't a huge problem, just pay it with the next bill, with any fees. But before the next bill was due I got the collection onslaught! A letter with "DISCONNECT" in big red letters. And the most irritating third-party automated phone machine that would make a a screechy call demanding immediate credit card payment called every two hours. There was no way to stop this thing. And that month's payment wasn't even due yet! Mind you I've had up to 4 accounts at Peoples Gas at any one time for the past 30 years and have almost NEVER had a late payment.

Really, why more Chicagoans don't rise up against Peoples Gas is beyond me. We pay the highest gas prices in the country and get the most surly service. This is a Soviet-era service monopoly at its worse. They have earned all the hate that comes their way.

READER TALE 6: Teri Smith writes:

I, the landlord, had to intervene, twice, because People's Gas refused to cancel the bill of a former deadbeat tenant and put the gas service into the name of the new tenant.

I called People's Gas the first time to help my new tenant establish service, I talked to a manager, faxed in documentation to prove the existence of the unit the new tenant was moving into, and told the People's Gas representative that this new service was to be in effect immediately. 3 months later I had to call again because People's Gas "lost" the information my new tenant sent in, and the information I sent in before. I reminded the person on the phone that I had sent in documentation, and I asked how they could have lost it.

The representative replied, "Look. We have millions of customer, and we can't keep track of everything."

As far as I'm concerned, if you can't handle your customer base, you shouldn't be in business. This is the perfect example of a company too big, too unregulated and too incompetent to be in existence.

*

Tell your Peoples Tale! Please indicate if we can use your name or if you wish to remain anonymous.



Permalink

Posted on February 11, 2009


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