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'1 star reviews': Customers report long waits at new Newmarket ServiceOntario

Location advises use of online booking system, walk-ins 'limited'
The new ServiceOntario location at the Newmarket Staples.

Newmarket resident Kym Pritchard knew she would have to wait to get a health card renewal when visiting Service Ontario this month.

She visited Newmarket’s new ServiceOntario location inside Staples on 17810 Yonge St. soon after its Feb. 1 opening. 

Although there were not that many people visible there, walking in, she said it took about two hours before she got the service.

“I didn’t think it was going to be so long,” she said, adding that ServiceOntario “was always a long wait, but it’s never been two hours before.”

Newmarket’s new ServiceOntario has received negative reviews for service quality in its first week of operation. The town was one of several to have its previous ServiceOntario location move from an independent private owner into Staples. The government has said moving these Staples will save around $1 million over three years, but has not released a business case. 

The province has said the change will see benefits, including longer service hours and better parking space. But early feedback has largely been negative, with 11 one-star reviews posted on Google since the new location opened, with two five-star reviews and one three-star as of Feb. 9. Newmarket's ServiceOntario previously carried an average rating of 3.7.

Newmarket resident Nancy Fish said she similarly faced an expected hour-and-a-half wait on her first visit to the new site. She also observed the employees at the location seemed to be new.

“I was quite surprised because I used to love going to the one at Yonge and Davis,” she said. “There might be a wait, but there were only probably ever eight people (at the old location). I was surprised, there had to be 40 people at Staples.” 

NewmarketToday's inquiry to Staples was redirected to the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade. Ministry spokesperson Praveen Senthinathan said the new locations offer many benefits, including appointment booking, digital displays on sites and more parking.

She said staff at all centres go through a "rigorous screening process" and receive consistent training.

"ServiceOntario is always working to improve the customer experience and will continue to explore innovative ways to provide vital government services to all Ontarians in all communities," she said. 

The new location does have a seated waiting area, which the previous location at Yonge Street and Davis Drive lacked. It also uses an electronic check-in system, allowing you to get a phone notification when you are due to be served, whereas the previous location used a line-up-only system. The new website for the location said that walk-ins are available "but limited due to high demand."

Fish said a long wait time dissuaded her on her first visit. But she said the electronic booking system worked well for her and resulted in a quick turnaround when she returned Monday. She advised others to take advantage of it. 

“The online booking is fine, as long as you have a computer,” she said. “But a lot of people don’t.”

Pritchard said some grace should be given for the first week, particularly given new trainees.

But she added that she did not think it was necessary to change the ServiceOntario location.

“It was totally unnecessary to do, but I’m also older. The way we’ve always done it, I thought was just fine,” she said.

“I’m really sad to see that it had moved,” Fish said. “I just hope the people who worked there and owned that ServiceOntario are OK.”