The Maryland Public Service Commission said yesterday that it will not block Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s plan to close its last two payment centers, but ordered the company to establish customer safeguards.
In a letter sent to BGE and the Office of the People's Counsel yesterday, the commission directed BGE to set up a formal procedure to protect customers from inadvertent service shut-offs or delayed service restoration because of payment mix-ups.
BGE must also monitor the effects on quality of service that customers receive at non-BGE payment sites and submit reports about complaints and problems caused by the closures, according to the PSC letter.
BGE had announced in April that it would close its last two centers, at Eastpoint Mall and its Lexington Street headquarters, by the end of this month and contract the business out to ACE Cash Express Inc.
But after complaints from the OPC and other critics, BGE said it would close the Eastpoint Mall location but keep the downtown center open until July 1, 2003.
"The commission's order affirms the course of action we intended," said BGE spokeswoman Rose Kendig. "Much of the information that the commission has requested was the type of information that we intended to compile to evaluate our progress, to ensure the success of our efforts to change longstanding habits and transition customers to alternative ways to paying bills."
The OPC and other critics urged the PSC to block the closings, saying they would inconvenience elderly and low-income customers who frequently use the downtown center to pay bills, and would hurt local businesses by decreasing pedestrian traffic.
Critics also objected to ACE charging BGE customers $1 at all but two of its 18 outlets to process each transaction, calling the fee a hardship for low- and fixed-income customers.
In its letter, the PSC said it "may revisit this matter in the future" if BGE's reports and complaints to regulators show the quality of service to customers was harmed by the closures.
"I am disappointed that BGE did not heed its customers' pleas to keep the company payment centers open," said People's Counsel Michael J. Travieso, the state consumers' advocate in utility issues, who urged the PSC to investigate the closings. "I still believe that BGE's plan to close the two remaining public payment centers, whether they do it now or next year, is not in the best interest of their customers."
Travieso added, "However, I appreciate the Public Service Commission's careful consideration of the impact of the closings. If we determine that customers are encountering problems, or that customer service has deteriorated as a result of BGE's actions, we will urge the commission to take a new look at the situation."