Is this a scam? Help, I’ve been forced to rent a transponder

Here’s a question about a possible scam from reader Candice Sabatini. She’s noticed that an increasing number of toll roads and bridges no longer have toll booths — you either carry a transponder or pay a fine.

Sabatini thinks that’s not fair to people who rent cars.

“If you rent cars often, it would seem that the simple solution is to buy a transponder and then attach it to the car you rent,” she says. “But the [catch] is that you cannot buy an EZPass unless they have a license plate to register it with.”

Car rental companies have a solution, but it’s pricey. And it looks like a scam to some.

When you rent a car, you have to pay a $15 fee to use a transponder, which can add up quickly. But renters don’t have a choice.

What’s going on?

It’s a scam

Clearly, drivers should be able to use their transponders on a rental vehicle if they want to. And if a transponder is required with a rental, then it should be included in the cost of your rental — not tacked on at the end. So in that sense, the transponder scheme can be viewed as a scam.

Not a scam

I asked Bob Barton of the American Car Rental Association for his perspective on this issue.

Definitely not a scam, he says.

The majority of all car rental companies have toll or EZPass systems. These are provided to us by third party companies who administer the entire process.

They charge a daily fee to use the toll device. Obviously they must assume some form of an average as no two customers will utilize the same number of tolls.

This is not a profit center for the car rental companies, but unfortunately we have been forced into a situation to provide such a system to facilitate the toll collections for the state.

Barton says this happens in Florida, which is aggressively removing many of its tollbooths. The alternative is far more expensive, and it involves tracking down drivers who haven’t paid their toll. That can cost even more, he says.

Related story:   "We lost our entire vacation"

It may be true that car rental companies don’t have a choice but to offer the transponders, but is $15 too much? Probably. It sure looks like someone is making lots of money from the transponders.

(Photo: fragglera wker 3/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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