Travel time added to contractor’s invoice
January 30, 2017 12:46 PM   Subscribe

I need to understand whether I should contest a portion of an invoice from an arborist.

The initial estimate indicated an hourly rate. After the work was completed I received an invoice that was higher (more than a third, almost $400) than the hours spent onsite warrant.

I thought there was an error, and wrote back asking him to recalculate. He responded that his billing commences at 7:00AM when his crew arrives at his shop. They arrived at my property after 8:00AM.

- The original estimate did not indicate that travel time is added to the hourly rate. It simply indicated an hourly rate per man on the job, and an estimated total charge for the work.

- In the end, four men worked 3 ½ hours, 14 hours total.

- I received an invoice for 19 hours. The additional hours are for travel time of 1.25 hours for four men, an additional five billable hours, at $75 an hour.

The contractor did not ask for a down payment. There was trust, and I do not want to abuse that. This is the first time he has worked for me.

I want to pay him, but I would appreciate clarification on whether the $400 charge for travel should be disputed. I feel a bit blindsided but perhaps this is fair and standard procedure.
posted by elf27 to Home & Garden (18 answers total)
In my opinion unless it was stated ahead of time then travel time should not be billed to you.
posted by tman99 at 12:50 PM on January 30, 2017 [8 favorites]

I have no idea what the standard is where you live, but in the Northeast at least you would not bill for travel time.
posted by JPD at 12:53 PM on January 30, 2017

I have never paid travel time for anyone doing work at my house. In addition, I have worked in landscaping and never charged travel time. I'm quite certain I would dispute an invoice that included travel time if I were to receive it.
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 12:54 PM on January 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

I have seen contractors bill for travel time, but it was clearly stated beforehand. (I live in Michigan.)

You say you were given an estimate of the total charge. Is that much different from the final charge? I think if it were close, I would pay it, but if it was much different and the difference was due to travel time, I'd be less inclined to pay it.
posted by FencingGal at 1:06 PM on January 30, 2017 [10 favorites]

No one gets paid for their commute. Ridiculous.
posted by tristeza at 1:18 PM on January 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have paid for travel time, agreed beforehand, but I live in a rural area and to get trades it is sometimes my only option.
posted by saucysault at 1:53 PM on January 30, 2017

I worked for a company that billed for travel time beyond a certain distance from the shop, but it was not full-rate, and it was always part of the bid. Seattle, WA if it matters.

Dropping it in after the fact feels like bad faith IMO.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 1:56 PM on January 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

I would dispute it if it wasn't fully disclosed beforehand. They are simply padding the bill, and in a dishonest way. A small amount I could overlook but adding 30% to the bill! Wow. Were they actually driving during that hour? How far did they drive to get to your house? What proof do they have that they arrived at 7am at their office?

I do billable work for a living. Rarely is it residential work, and I would not expect someone to ask me to drive hours to do work at their home, and I likely wouldn't drive hours to do work for a residence.

If I am billing hourly to a business (95% of my clients), I will charge a trip fee to cover gas and time that the drive is taking away from my ability to work for someone else, but generally only if the job is over 30 minutes away, and it is not for the same billable amount as the actual work that I'm doing. Plus I make it very clear at the beginning. No one has ever questioned it once in 10 years and I've had companies add it on if I didn't. If I'm doing a flat fee, it's already rolled in.

"No one gets paid for their commute." Maybe not a commute, per se, but travel time they do. When you're good, and people are calling you to drive across the state because the customer can depend on the work that you do and local companies are total shit, a small travel fee that at least covers your gas and lunch is happily applied by the customer.

However, to charge for milling around the office gathering tools, sipping coffee, and rolling out for a 10 minute drive to the client's house, that is wrong.
posted by dozo at 2:07 PM on January 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

I agree that if there is a charge for travel time, it needs to be stated upfront. This feels smarmy, and I wouldn't go along with it.
posted by ktkt at 2:09 PM on January 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

The original estimate did not indicate that travel time is added to the hourly rate. It simply indicated an hourly rate per man on the job, and an estimated total charge for the work.

I am a career contracting professional (but IANAL), so forgive me for the painfully detailed response.

If I were given this issue to address at work, I would kick the invoice back and ask the other party to point out which part of the estimate indicates that billable labor hours include travel time -- they and you knew they would be traveling before they sent the estimate, but only they knew they were going to bill for travel, so why wouldn't they have included it on the estimate? They don't have the right to make a unilateral change to a bilateral agreement, which is what you entered into when arborist gave you an estimate and you said OK, come work.

Any contract that bills for time (labor-hour or time and material) should indicate exactly what type of activities that time will include or exclude -- just the straight time required to complete the specific task at hand? travel? errand-running? tool-gathering? meetings at the home office? meetings at the client location? all of the above? On my company's rate sheet, which we send out with all of our bids, it clearly states that billable hours are inclusive of round-trip travel. So in lieu of similar wording on the P.O. (if one exists?), estimate, or invoice, my opinion is that the arborist should expect to eat the costs, because they don't have a legal leg to stand on when it comes to billing you for something they failed to mention until they had cut an invoice. If there was compensable delay it would be another story, but this seems pretty cut-and-dried to me. Whether a dispute is worth it, though... That's up to you. Good luck!
posted by amnesia and magnets at 2:21 PM on January 30, 2017 [11 favorites]

Did their travel include moving equipment? Any time I've hired a sub that involves delivering a machine, like a backhoe, includes a charge to get that equipment there.
posted by humboldt32 at 2:32 PM on January 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

we contracted with a commercial moving company at work and it was clear that we'd be paying for the labor and mileage from when they left their offices.
they are quite clear in their estimates-- they state EXACTLY what they charge for and how this is calculated.

did your estimate include an estimate of the total number of hours?
or just the hours they expected to be on-site?

if it was an estimate of the total number of hours, then they really missed in their estimate--by four hours. how do they reconcile that difference?
if it was just the on-site hours, then they should not charge you the commute time.
posted by calgirl at 3:33 PM on January 30, 2017

No one gets paid for their commute. Ridiculous.

I always bill for travel to client sites. It's time spent where I can't work (most client work is done in my office). It's not unreasonable on its face.

However my clients know this ahead of time.

It's hard with trades when sometimes they start work onsite and sometimes when they get shuttled from an office such as this case. However this should be clearly stated somewhere and should definitely be included in any estimates - estimates should be inclusive of all time.

There is a middle ground here (up to you to take it). Recently with a contractor where work went considerably over budget estimates we paid him at his rate up until the estimate then paid him at "cost" for hours over (generally costs are probably about 50% rate). This is generally a decent negotiating technique if you're inclined to go that route.
posted by bitdamaged at 4:11 PM on January 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

The estimate should have spelled out charges for travel time and overtime (if they charge a premium for overtime). In my business, it's customary to pay for travel time, but it's also very clearly spelled out and itemized in the estimate we send to customers and it's also in our contracts. There's no excuse for a surprise charge like this if there was a formal estimate/agreement process. Travel is not an unforeseeable cost.
posted by quince at 5:01 PM on January 30, 2017

(Thank you for correcting me - learn something new every blah blah...)
posted by tristeza at 5:46 PM on January 30, 2017

Seconding quince. My company works far from our office and routinely bills for both travel time and mileage. However, we don't give estimates; we get client approval on a scope and budget. The travel expenses are always written into our scope and budget, and we would never invoice for more than our budget without getting a change order approved before we even did the work.
posted by agentofselection at 7:45 PM on January 30, 2017

I've never heard of a service (plumbing, arborist, painter, etc.) charging travel time. It just isn't done in my neck of the woods. You have no control over travel time. Are you paying for their time in the McD's drive-through when they stop for coffee and McMuffins? Paying for them stuck in traffic?

If it wasn't stated in the estimate, I wouldn't pay it. It isn't a customary charge the way it might be in white-collar work.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:16 AM on January 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

If it wasn't part of the estimate, it has no place in the bill.
They're trying to screw you.
Do not reward them for attempting to screw you.
posted by blueberry at 7:42 AM on February 1, 2017

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