Should car rental companies profit from toll roads?

Crossing the Golden Gate bridge is the driving highlight of any visit to Northern California. But not for Claudia Moore.

The mile-long suspension bridge between San Francisco and Marin County last year switched to “all-electronic” tolling. Moore, an educational website developer in Denver, didn’t have to slow down her rental to pay the $7 fee. The AET system took a snapshot of her license plate and charged the car’s owner, Fox Rent A Car, directly.

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When Moore returned the vehicle, a company called Highway Toll Administration, which bills itself as the largest provider of toll services for the rental car industry, mailed her an invoice. It tacked an additional $2.95 a day to her bill — a total of $11.80 for the privilege of a “pay by plate” option with the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District.

“This information is listed in very small print on the car rental agreement,” she says. “But what’s the convenience fee for?”

That’s a question many car renters are asking as the number of AET roads expand. Of the 5,300 miles of toll roads in the USA, roughly 200 miles are all-electronic, with nearly 100 new miles being added every year, according to the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.

Neil Gray, the organization’s director of government affairs, admits there’s a disconnect between drivers, car rental companies, tolling authorities and the mysterious, media-shy companies that process toll violations.

“I’m not trying to cast aspersions on the rental guys,” he says. “Toll agencies are primarily concerned only with the toll itself, they aren’t pursuing additional fees or penalties as a revenue source from rental customers. There’s a burden on the rental companies to disclose any fees they charge for tolls.”

But how much is too much? And at what point is a car rental company profiting from an all-electronic toll road?

The car rental industry says it’s just trying to cover its expenses. These fees cover the cost of processing license plates and paying an outside company to handle claims with any tolling authority. Yet at the same time, a business like HTA promises rental companies will generate “additional revenue for the agency and counter personnel.”

David Centner, the HTA’s chief executive, admits the “drumbeats of unjustified profit-taking are getting louder” but he says they’re misguided.

“It takes a lot of people and continued investment to deliver our services every day,” he says. “What seems to be a relatively simple idea — allowing customers to pay for their tolls electronically — is actually extraordinarily complex.

It’s not an easy balance. Enterprise, the largest car rental company, has a program called TollPass Automatic, which automatically bills the renter’s credit card for the toll, plus a “convenience” charge of “only” $3.95 a day, with a maximum fee of $19.75 per rental transaction. TollPass doesn’t charge for days when you don’t use a toll road.

These efforts ensure any toll violations “are paid swiftly,” says Michele Muscarella, Enterprise’s vice president of airport business development.

Car rental customers don’t necessarily see it the same way. When Kari Bluff, a teacher from Sacramento, visited Seattle recently, she rented a car from Dollar. Even though she wanted to avoid the SR 520 toll bridge, Google Maps insisted it was the only way to reach her destination. It was an AET road.

“When I got home, I immediately went to the state toll website to set up a temporary account and pay the toll,” she remembers. “The Washington State Department of Transportation has a method specifically set up for people to establish a short-term account to pay a toll.” But Dollar had other plans. It blocked her from paying through the state’s site, and instead charged her $2.40, plus a $10 “service charge.”

“The disclosure was buried in the fine print of my rental agreement,” she remembers.

Bluff, and others like her, feel car rental companies or the companies processing their toll transactions are taking advantage of a situation. They understand a service fee, but charging a customer every day, even if they don’t use a toll road, seems excessive and indefensible. Indeed, when Moore pushed Highway Toll Administration about her San Francisco rental, it backed down and refunded the service fee. Bluff grudgingly paid her bill.

The car rental companies counter that the toll payments are a service that customers requested, not unlike a GPS device or satellite radio. And an important one, too. Without them, drivers would face even higher penalties for failing to pay a toll.

There’s no standard policy when it comes to toll charges, says Sharon Faulkner, the executive director of the American Car Rental Association. Some companies charge customers per usage day, like Enterprise, while others do what Fox did by starting the meter when a car passes through the toll plaza, and keeping it running until a driver returns the rental. The organization has no official position on whether tolls should, or shouldn’t, be a profit center.

But it’s a worthy debate. Given the expansion of AET roads, should car rental companies and their surrogates be able to recover their costs, or should they be able to turn toll roads into a moneymaker? Drivers seem to have made up their minds already, but car rental companies appear to be undecided.

Should car rental companies profit from toll roads?

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How to steer clear of toll charges

• Avoid toll roads. Most navigation systems can help you steer clear of AET roads or toll roads.

• Ask before you drive away. Car rental companies have different policies. Knowing what they are can help you avoid an unexpected rental fee.

• Make your own toll arrangements. You can purchase a transponder at a local grocery store, allowing you to bypass the more expensive car rental billing systems.

137 thoughts on “Should car rental companies profit from toll roads?

      1. Well, when consumers are idiots, it is quite difficult to take their side.
        Besides, why should only governments profit from tolls? You seem to have no problem with the third party toll collectors getting a cut, why shouldn’t the rental companies get some love?

        1. Your attitude toward consumers is unfortunate. Not everyone has the time to read the fine print or even the ability to understand it. (After all, it’s written by lawyers.) That doesn’t make them idiots. I hope you will reconsider your position after spending some time here.

          1. You know what a reasonable bit of advocacy would be? How about when someone has a receipt for the toll and still gets dinged by the rental company. The consumer has a legitimate beef, and deserves relief.

          2. Chris, you’re a good guy trying to help people. Not everyone will agree with your point of view.

          3. NTBG, not widely known is the fact that if you click on a comment you find objectionable, a little flag will appear to the right of the comment in question. Clicking on that flag will send an alert to Chris’ moderators. In past, if enough people click those flags often enough, other people have lost their posting privileges. 😮

          4. You are correct and I apologize. Unfortunately, I see no way to remove the original offending post. Edit: there is a way of editing old posts and I’ve removed the attack. Thanks for helping to improve my manners and the level of discussion on this board.

          5. Then he needs to stop being abusive with his comments. We can use different views but not one where the poster continually insults people that don’t agree with him and in particular Chris.

          6. I concur, an attorney could write a contract that would be indecipherable to everyone including other attorneys

        2. You are so wrong about this. The car rental companies know about these tolls and can spend 20 minutes trying to sell insurance and nothing about where toll roads are. As a travel agent I wouldn’t even read the fine print looking for information on tolls.

      2. To quote Eli Wallach in the Magnificent Seven: “If god did not want them shorn, he would not have made them sheep.”

          1. So, if I *disagree* with a comment, I should flag it? The only thing I find in the comment policy that would apply to the original comment is the admonition to “Be Nice”. Variations of D.C.’s original comment show up on this forum very frequently (like the Hyundai disposition fee), so why are we picking on this one commenter today?

          2. “So, if I *disagree* with a comment, I should flag it?”

            Of course not… but if a poster is continually nasty, insulting or mindlessly argumentative, I’d say that violates the admonition to “Be Nice.”

            Wouldn’t you?

          3. I wouldn’t go the “mindlessly argumentative” route if I were you. I immediately thought of one poster who seems to love arguing for argument’s sake, and you haven’t banned him. (Although we do have some regulars who will not reply to him.)
            The first comment by DC was really no different than what so many others say about so many topics. His *second* comment used the word “idiots”, which was needlessly inflammatory. Other posters using that word get chastised, but I don’t see any mention of banning them.
            Set out the rules, point out how DC is violating those rules, ask him to follow them, but for goodness’ sake, don’t single him out.

          4. Really? Please tell me how. I have not insulted any individual poster. I guess that if someone holds a different opinion, that classifies as “rude” in your world.

          5. Good point, Jeanne. My bad. After reading your post, I gave it some thought. “Mindlessly argumentative,” but just mindless is one thing. Mindlessly argumentative combined with nasty and insulting is kind of the “jerk” combo plate, and takes things to a new level.

            You’re also right about other posters “getting away” with using inflammatory words with no mention of banning them. I guess the difference is that most, if not all, of those posters have been here for years. They’ve earned a little latitude… so maybe they just get a talking-to behind the scenes.

            When we get a new poster, though, who immediately starts flaming, is it really out of line to try to nip it in the bud?

            Thanks for your thoughts.

        1. Yes, that used to be our Dislike. It had to be discontinued after too many airline and car rental people signed up for discussions.

          1. It’s not true that the down vote button is disabled. Disqus only “counts” upvotes in terms of the numbers that show up on the post, but down votes do affect the ranking of posts. For people who sort by “best” (because we don’t want to read all 8 billion comments), down voting makes a BIG difference.

            PS — is Disqus on this site not working normally for others. The HTML is pretty broken for me.

          2. Great point. I knew the downvotes counted in some way, but didn’t realize they impacted “best” sorting. Thanks for the explanation.

            As for Disqus not working right today, I’ve seen that comment from other people. We’re looking into it. Sorry.

          3. This is Disqus’s explanation of the downvotes:

            The number of Downvotes a comment has received will no longer show in Disqus. We made the change based on an expectation that less visibility into downvoting would lead to less gaming or abuse of the voting system. We’re still evaluating the effects of this change, and we are definitely listening to feedback like yours.

            Though these downvote numbers will no longer display, all downvotes will still be tallied by our system and can affect the order in which comments display. If you have downvoted a comment, the arrow will turn red, confirming your action.

            https://help.disqus.com/customer/portal/questions/6050471-why-was-the-downvote-count-removed-

          4. Yeah, that’s what I saw, but the wording is unclear. When I saw that “downvotes will still be tallied by our system and can affect the order in which comments display,” I thought, “What the hell does that mean… that downvoted comments will move down the page? So what? Your explanation makes a lot more sense.

            As for Disqus “evaluating the effects of this change, and … definitely listening to feedback like yours,” they don’t seem to be. Over the past approximately ten months since they gelded the downvotes, they’ve been buried with requests to restore the downvote counter, but have yet to do so.

          5. I’m not sure that’s true. I mean, the vocal commenters on these boards are demanding the return of down votes, but the people angry about change are those I’d expect to be the most publicly vocal.

            Query (to which I realize you don’t know the answer): what percentage of active Disqus users have actually complained? My guess is it’s a VERY small number. I, for one, prefer the current system. Under the old system, you end up with discussions on the fascinating topic of: “If you down voted me, have the guts to make a comment about it.”

        1. Doesn’t it seem rather silly to flag a comment just because you disagree with it? I’d think we should be asking the mods to look into actual transgressions, not conflicting viewpoints.

          1. You don’t “flag a comment just because you disagree with it.” You flag it because the poster is continually nasty, insulting or mindlessly argumentative. Posters like that are a cancer that eventually gets cut out.

    1. I’m sure you stand at the rental counter, taking the 2 or more hours needed to fully read and comprehend (if that is even possible) the contract you are about to sign. Or maybe you bring your attorney with you everywhere you go so they can interpret all the legalese found in the contracts.

      If so, I’d hate to be the one behind you in line…. bit somehow I doubt you do that, like most. So these surprising, buried in the details, could catch anyone by surprise.

      1. Yes, I hope you are behind me next time I rent a car. If you don’t like that I personally take the time to protect myself, then too bad.

        You know it is also possible to review the terms and conditions on line before you start your trip.

        Also, no one is holding a gun to your head to rent a car. What sort of person thinks that it is OK to go across a toll bridge and not stop to pay the toll? It is incomprehensible to me that some authority would not track down the toll violator – and if it happens to be a rental company, so what?

        Some of you folks ought to learn what responsible behavior is.

        1. Perhaps you yourself need to learn to read, instead of complaining about others ability. It says the toll was all electronic, so there was probably no place to stop and pay the toll. And I don’t think the person said they shouldn’t pay the toll. It’s the rental car company fees that really are in question here.

          1. There is a time cost involved in paying these tolls caused by renters. The fee really shouldn’t be in question. There is a way to get around tolls in SF, but it takes a bit more driving to do it. I do not like not having at least one lane for those who wish to pay in cash. You can also pay ahead of time, online. I haven’t done it, but my kids do it each time they head to SF over the GG Bridge.

          2. I think it was Ireland I was in that had an automated toll system and usage of toll roads would be automatically billed to your rental car account. Would be nice if there was something like that here. Also would be nice if there was only one type of toll system, so you could drive all over and not worry about it.

            Unfortunately for me, in Ireland, I was told that my car was equipped with such a device. There were lots of stickers and such on the windshield, so thought it was great and drove off. First time through a toll gate… oops, my car did NOT have it on.

            Driving throughout the NE US this past summer, there were toll roads and bridges all over the place. One bridge I think it said was 10 cents, but there was no place to pay. Automatic. Well… wonder if I’ll get something in the mail asking for their dime? If I had lived there, and had been familiar with the roads, I might have been able to drive around. But I wasn’t, and driving around wasn’t really an option. It’s not that easy when you are driving in unfamiliar territory, especially in high traffic areas.

          3. Again, local maps show these. We drive the NE and avoid them unless we want to take the faster way, then we take a toll road. Coming into NYC is one that probably is the hardest.

          4. Again, sounds like someone familiar with the territory. I wasn’t. But knowing how the NE is full of toll roads and such I came prepared with small bills and change. So imagine my surprise when I got to a toll and realized there’s no way to pay. Even if I happened to know the toll was there, I most likely would never have guessed there wasn’t a way to actually hand someone money.

          5. No, I look at maps before hand, but NYC wasn’t one that I could deal with, so paid the tolls. One time when the actually took money, we were down to pennies which they said they didn’t take. Fortunately at that point, we were off into the city.

          6. It wasn’t the tolls that were the problem. I came prepared for that. It was the all electronic/no cash one or two instances that threw me. Actually don’t mind the tolls, but being a stranger in a strange land (of sorts) made the non-cash only tolls a little surprising.

          7. And that is why someone would choose to pay a toll. So if you are not willing to do the extra driving, be prepared to pay. And if you are in a rental car, it is probably better to ASK what the policies are before actually renting.

            Many agencies have EZ Pass (or similar) installed in the car in a device that blocks transmissions, so it does not get used by accident. You have to make a decision to activate it, and when you do, the fees apply.

          8. Done it. Hwy 9 on each side of the Hudson. Rarely take the toll road in upstate, just once in awhile. I don’t live there, so I like to see the sights and the villages.

          9. Try driving in Houston and taking a wrong turn from a non-toll to a toll road…what a nightmare. My tolls were about $2 and the “processing fee” was $36.

          10. I agree that rental car companies probably have some overhead costs associated with dealing with tolls. However, given the other obviously sharp practices exhibited by some of these companies. I think there is an understandable amount of skepticism about what they charge for this and the reasons they give when questioned. And they rely on customers not having the time or understanding to read their agreements, and/ or being in a position to not be able to argue with them (for example, business travelers who have no choice about which company is selected by their employer for them).

          11. Then avoid the toll roads. Anyone who drives should know that major bridges have tolls. And there are signs warning people of the fact.

          12. I thought the rule was “Be nice”. What is nice about implying that I cannot read?

            Pot. Kettle. Black

        2. You do realize stopping to pay isn’t even an option on some toll roads anymore? That’s what the “all electronic” tolling the article mentions is.

        3. If you failed to comprehend this simple article, I sincerely doubt you will comprehend a rental agreement or catch the fine prints in the e-toll brochure. I also dare you to stop and pay at the Golden Gate bridge toll.. let see what happens to your bumper.

          The point of this article is, why third party toll fees administration companies charge you even if you do not use the toll.

          1. I defended your right to express a contrary opinion. Please don’t make me look foolish for having done so.

        4. Here are the issues I see with your point of view. On many of the toll roads/bridges/tunnels today, there is no way to pay the toll in person. One either has to have a transponder, or the toll system will “system match” the license plate to the vehicle owner, and bill the toll through the mail. Some toll authorities have a way to input the plate information into an online system and pay the toll online, but that varies between different authorities.

          I don’t necessarily have a problem with the rental companies charging a service charge to process these tolls, but I have a major problem with the rental companies charging their daily fee for each day of my rental if the only toll I incured was on day 1. That is the rental company stealing from me. I used the toll for 1 day why should I be charged more than 1 day.

          Do you understand the point I am getting at? We here serve the consumer, so you will find that things are reviewed in a light most favorable to the consumer.

          1. Yes, charging for every day is excessive, and if it were me, I would complain. But I would also avoid toll roads; they all have signs that clearly state whether or not it is electronic or if there is no cash option.

          2. Avoiding toll roads – not always an option. Some here the time difference could be double, turning a 5 hour trip to 10. And usually the “no cash” option is found out a little to late as you’re driving down the highway in lots of traffic.

          3. You know, governments pay a lot of money for those things on the side of the road called “signs”. Maybe if more people bothered to read them, then things like this would not happen.

            In TX, all of the automated toll roads have warning signs at least a mile before the final exit where the electronic tolls kick in. I am sure it is like that everywhere.

            Now, if you were in your personal car and faced with the decision to proceed without the appropriate electronic device, what would you do?

          4. And I lost my way in Houston once despite having a map and printed directions for the express purpose of avoiding toll roads and ended up an electronic toll road that had no place to turn around. before getting on. I ended up paying $2 in tolls and $36 to the toll authority for “processing.” Was I responsible? Yes. Does that mean I deserved to be taken advantage of by the toll tag authority that failed to provide adequate signs and an opportunity to avoid that road? I think not. And since I live in Dallas I can tell you for a fact that there are toll road entrances that are not marked as electronic toll only and where there is no place to turn around.

          5. Do you have a TxTag? I live in San Antonio, where we don’t have any toll roads (yet anyway). I got a TxTag anyway. It’s so convenient when I’m in Austin, Houston or Dallas. Before I had the tag, I too accidentally got in the electronic lane in Houston. It was rush hour and I didn’t notice in time. I never heard a thing. I think they let the tolls accumulate to $10 before they send a bill to the address associated with your plate.

          6. I have a problem with the toll collection agency’s failing to provide a toll taker to collect cash money. OR providing a credit-card swipe machine in a lane to accomplish same. Shouldn’t be hard to do that.

          7. Tollways are moving away from even having tolling points where you can have a place to coins / cash / card. IL added some ETC / plate only ramps and is turning a at grade / freeway in to a toll road that will be ETC / plate only

          8. It all comes down to cost. Having one lane on the GG Bridge with a toll taker was requested in the change over, but got nixed. The money they save gets to go to the Bridge Directors pay.

          9. In my geographic area the toll authority gets what they want from our legislature. One of the ways they have increased their profits is by getting approval to go totally electronic so they don’t have to pay hundreds of people to be in toll booths 24/7. To add insult to injury, if you choose not to get a toll tag (which admittedly is free), you pay a higher price on tolls that are billed than those charged to the tag. About 4 percent of the population here is “unbanked” so they are unlikely to have a credit or debit card to use in an automated machine. There are ways to avoid toll roads of course but when gas was so high I am not sure driving on surface roads or jammed non-toll freeways was any cheaper.

        5. @darthchocolate:disqus this is your second warning. Your comments are generating too many flags. You have a history of attacking consumers on this site. If you continue, we will place your account in moderation, which means a moderator will have to approve every post. I really don’t want to do that. Please be nice.

      2. Terms and conditions are available online. Why not spend some time reading them in the comfort of your own home before you arrive at the rental desk?

        Personal responsibility. Look it up.

        1. You think i need to look it up? I’m so for personal responsibility I use my real name when I post. Unlike some who might not want to be held personally responsible for the remarks. 🙂

      3. I have an Attorney friend who many years before this incident worked for a major car rental company. He and I were on a trip one day and he had reserved the rental car in his name. He spent 40 minutes at the counter reading the contract line by line. It seemed like very strange behavior and I was both curious about why he did this and embarrassed because other renters were waiting in line behind us. After signing the paperwork, he explained that when he wrote contracts for customers to sign, he did so in such a way that most people wouldn’t understand what was in the first few paragraphs. They would give up trying to comprehend the document and just sign it. He wasn’t going to be “one of those people”.

    2. Why don’t you go away until your brain carrier grows long enough to reach your fundamental place? Then you can come back and demonstrate to all and sundry just exactly how to perform a seemingly impossible feat of physical dexterity upon yourself!

      I would be an editor and a moderator on this site, except that I am too shy and reticent,and have extreme difficulty in expressing my real sentiments concerning various issues.

      Have a nice day!

  1. $3/day surcharge, only on days you get charged tolls, seems pretty reasonable to me. It’s not zero labor to match up renters with toll charges 1+ months after-the-fact and process the billing.

    And I’ve rented plenty of cars with this system; it’s always been right there on the rental agreement, and usually a sticker on the windshield too. The rental agreement isn’t THAT long, nor is the print any smaller than the rest of the thing.

    1. From my experience, if you use that toll mechanism once, they apply the daily surcharge to each and every day of the rental.
      That’s what I have a problem with.
      Happened to me in May, in Denver…took a toll road back to the airport and it charged me a daily charge for each and every day.
      They did refund it after I requested them to, but this is what I have a problem with. Daily charge on the days you use it..no problem.

      1. I agree! That is a ridiculous rule – if you aren’t using the tool road on a particular day you shouldn’t have to pay for it. Perhaps these government agencies need to fix the problems they cause.

    2. It may not be zero labor but I’ve got to imagine it’s not much. $3-$5 ought to cover it for the entire rental period. Also, don’t the toll companies have websites where the fees can be checked? Why not simply check with those when processing a return.

  2. I have no problem with a company making reasonable profit off any services provided. However, in this case there must be (1) a way for the renter to deactivate or (better) activate the system, and, (2) any daily charge can only apply to days the service is used. (not meant to be comprehensive)

  3. As there are actual costs for rental companies to provide this service, I don’t have a problem with the fees. And as a business has to make a profit to stay in business, not just cover costs, a fixed “service charge” amount per toll road seems reasonable. Where it gets murky is when they charge per day…

  4. I don’t think companies should be obliged to provide toll processing services free of charge or at cost, any more than they should be required to hire out cars free of charge or at cost.

    Where feasible the customer should be permitted to arrange payment himself rather than taking the service.

    1. The only issue I can find with this is that if the driver does not, in fact, handle it himself, the company is on the hook for the toll and the time to track down who had the car during that period. It is probably easier to just require everything to be handled directly?

      1. Well, if the rental company gets cited because the renter said he’d pay the toll but didn’t, they can then assess a big penalty.

    2. And the car rental companies should tel the consumer when they are picking up the car where there are tolls and how they can pay them.

      1. That sounds good in principal, but if you pick up a car in Reno and decide to drive to SF for the day, how would the car company know to tell you about the tolls? Maps, online, tour books, all have this information available, so where does personal responsibility come into play here?

        1. What if you tell them “I’m gonna cross the state line and drive to SF?” Should they tell you about the tolls? Often, you can’t take a rental out of state unless you have it on the agreement.

          1. Actually you can take it out of state unless it states you can’t and which states those are. Enterprise is the worst. Never had a limitation on Hertz or Avis, even going into Canada. Just have to tell them. Some of these are based on size of car you rent.

  5. I think most people are comfortable paying a reasonable fee for a provided product or service. For example, a larger rental car is a product that you have the use of the entire rental period so it is reasonable to pay for that each day of the rental. Electronic toll collection is different because not only is its use somewhat optional but also because it is a service that can be easily measured. Because the measurement is an integral part of its use, it is reasonable to pay the fee only when it’s used, not the entire period of the rental.

  6. Actually, a small profit for the costs of processing seems acceptable. However, the article states: “The car rental companies counter that the toll payments are a service
    that customers requested, not unlike a GPS device or satellite radio.”. That may be true, but only if that option is clearly stated, up front, before the contract is signed, and if the renter can opt out without penalty. Only under those circumstances does it seem that a charge to offset costs is acceptable.

  7. While I support the concept of easy toll paying, I am not keen on having to pay the per-day fee. There are days when one does not drive on a toll road, and why must the renter pay for the days that the tolls barriers are not used. Maybe a small fee tacked on top of each actual toll cost should pacify everybody. I had a long term (3+ weeks) rental recently and was assessed only a $13.00 fee for the whole period. I did not object, particularly because I used the toll road a LOT.

  8. What happens to people who go through places like Illinois where we have our personal iPasses and can temporarily add the rental to the pass? Would we still get charged a fee or even be able to use our personal device?

    1. I-pass / ez-pass tolls should not trigger a PHOTO if there is a miss read there may be a time lag and if by the time the photo goes though it may link to the rent a car system if you take the plate off of the i-pass. Don’t need to add the plate if you have I-pass anyways.

    2. Here you can no longer use your personal toll tag if you rent a car locally. The tag is tied to the auto plate and it is fixed to the windshield. I don’t even think you can cover it up if you want to for some reason, although I’ve never tried it. You used to be able to remove it and use it with any vehicle.

  9. While I’m okay with rental agencies being able to recover toll fees charged on rental cars if the renter doesn’t pay the toll themselves (the “service fee” charges are worth discussing separately), I don’t believe agencies should be prevented from letting renters take care of the toll themselves. I don’t like the idea of a “per day” ongoing fee, either.

    I guess from now on, when I rent a vehicle I’ll need to check to see if I’m allowed to pay the tolls on my own or if I’ll be forced to pay the rental agency for the “convenience.”

  10. I, Like Cindy, have an IL IPASS. I make many trips to the Midwest and registering a new car is fast. But, I wish there was a national one that would bill to all AETs. I do think that the ~$3/ a day is high but it probably is used to offset fees on cars that the renter did not pay toll on, or collected tickets that had to be traced back. I think that it should apply only to days used. It seems like a junk fee but it does offer conveniance. in IL the cash fee is 2x the AET fee, use it every day and save money over cash (toll taker or throw money into machine collection).

    1. Two items: I-PASS is connected to the EZ-Pass system, so you can use it almost anywhere. There are some disconnected toll-pass systems. Sun-Pass comes to mind.

      Be wary of using your own transponder and assigning it to a rental car. We did that once and got dinged for extra tolls. We returned the car and upon returning home unregistered the car. The car was turned around quickly and the next driver went through some tolls before the “unregistration” took effect.

      1. I’d call ’em immediately, or go on the website and un-register.

        U R correct about Sun Pass. Girl in the booth looked sheepish; she’d been asked the question many times.

  11. I am fine with these third parties companies charging a convenience fee for every time you use their service, however, it basically theft to charge for the days you do not use the service.

    In a recent business trip to SF I had extra time after work and I wanted to drive through the Golden Gate Bridge. That was until I took a moment to read the terms of Avis’ e-toll provider. It says that after the first use, they will charge a fee for the remaining of the rental period even if you don’t use the service. That was outrageous, so since all the locations to buy an one time pass were closed, I opted to park at the GG Pavilion and walk through the bridge. I enjoyed it more.

  12. I don’t blame the consumers here, I blame the car rental companies. They know about toll roads in the areas they are located in and they should advise consumers renting cars where they are and how they can be paid.

    This happened to me in Florida when I rented a car but I knew about the tolls on the Florida Turnpike. I waited to see if the agent was going to tell me about it and when they didn’t, I asked about it. I got an “oh yes, but if you stay in 95 you can avoid it.”
    Meanwhile it is very easy to buy a SunPass anywhere that can be used.

    If an agent can spend 20 minutes trying ti upsell car insurance they should certainly take the time to explain where tolls are and give the consumer the option to pay them.

  13. Several years ago rented a car in Sydney Australia from a discount agency. Car had an electronic device under the dash that would softly chime every time I used a toll road. When I turned the car in the clerk read the accumulated tolls from the device and charged me. All very civilized, efficient, and effective. Also…several years ago the tolls from crossing the Golden Gate Bridge paid off the bonds used to build it. The toll authority charges $7 to cross the bridge, but only $5 to use other bridges crossing the Bay. Ok, use BART, but that can easily cost more than the Bridge. Ok, drive around the long way, but the State of California collects about 75 cents tax per gallon of gas. From where I live, about a 20 minute drive north of the south end of the Bridge, it would take 90 minutes or so to drive the long way and avoid the bridges to the east and south of San Francisco. So, yes, I have choices but for the combination of time, public transport ticket fees, and gas taxes, I do get a good view when crossing the Bridge for and additional $2 over other bridge tolls, and I pay it.

  14. Always check the toll authority’s website, even after the fact. It’s a headache, but some tolls are payable online and then the rental company won’t get the bill and can’t pass administrative charges along to you.

    In the case of the Golden Gate Bridge, it looks like you can make a one-time payment up to 48 hours after you cross to avoid the OP’s predicament:

    http://goldengate.Org/tolls/tollpaymentoptions.php#onetimepayment

    One-Time Payment
    One-Time Payments are suggested for drivers who infrequently cross the Golden Gate Bridge, visitors from out of the area, and customers who want to pay with cash. One-Time Payments may be made online, over the phone, or in person. A One-Time Payment can be made 30 days before you cross the Bridge, or within 48 hours after your crossing (this also applies to rental vehicles). One-Time Payments may be made online with a credit card or with cash at a Cash Payment Location.

    1. This is reasonable. If you register with them and pay, then the plate gets read and your account is charged, right?

      1. Right, not every toll collection agency makes this feasible, but it’s always worth checking. If you register, make sure you can close your exposure for the license plate you declare as of your return date, so you’re not on the hook for the next renters’ tolls. In the case of the Golden Gate bridge, you can declare a license plate, a crossing date/time, and a cutoff date/time, so renters should be able to cover all bases.

  15. Some causeways in my area have no booths with which to pay cash… and there are no alternative roads. It’s toll by sticker or plate. Toll by plate is more expensive.

    Rental companies could avoid the more expensive charge for their customers by purchasing a sticker.. for which the charge is less.

        1. I looked that one up and it appears to only be for FL. At least EZ Pass can be used in other states that have it.

          We have FasTrak for the GG Bridge and it can be used a few other places in CA but that is it as far as I know.

  16. Holey Moley, these travel challenges never end! I am so glad to get a little education here. Of course, the rental companies will continue to profit on tolls until someone or something makes them stop.

  17. I run a van rental company. When we get tolls we give the customer the option of paying it themselves free of charge by contacting the citation agency, and only charge a fee if they do not pay the ticket and we have to pay it on their behalf.

    HOWEVER, the issue *is* complex: some states do not send toll violations in a timely manner, for example Illinois has often waited over a year before sending violation notices. By then the customer may be difficult to reach (particularly if they are visiting from abroad), and their card may have expired. Other agencies will combine violations from many different renters and not let us pay them separately – forcing us to administer payments from numerous parties meanwhile fronting the money for those who have not paid (and who may never pay!). Finally smaller towns and cities may require payment by check, sent via snail mail with a copy of the ticket. Often our labor cost on processing these violations is greater than the ticket amount.

    We strive to be customer friendly, so we absorb a lot of these costs. The fee we charge for paying a ticket on the customer’s behalf if they don’t pay it themselves is fairly steep ($25), but that only reduces the loss we incur from all the times we don’t get payment at all and are forced to pay out of pocket for the entire citation. Ironically, we also field the occasional periodic complaint from customers who want us to have a platepass option similar to what the large corporate companies use.

    As I have told many customers over the years: if I could be out of the business of dealing with citations and damage and just concentrate on renting great vans I would jump at that opportunity. Both of those problems are net-losses on our books, and frustratingly also a longstanding source of customer distrust who think we are profiting from these problems. Sadly they are problems for us too.

    Sharky Laguana
    CEO
    Bandago Van Rentals

  18. People are being afully critical of Darth Chocolate for insuting the people this article is about. I don’t particularly think the “idiots” comment was necessary, but at least one of the people in this article deserves significant criticism to the point that, frankly, it’s hard not to insult her. That’s Kari Bluff. Here’s her story, compacted:

    Rents car. Drives on toll road. Finds that rental company (through service provider) charged her the toll she incurred + a service fee. She complains and gets the service fee taken off. She pays the toll to the service company, but only does so “grudgingly.” So, let’s make sure we’re all clear here: Ms. Bluff believes that the car rental company, or the service provider, should have paid her road tolls. Yeah, okay. I guess they should pay for her gas, too. And probably her flight and her hotel.

    Is this too sarcastic for everybody? Sorry, it’s hard to be nice when people take the position that they shouldn’t have to pay for things that cost money.

  19. As other commenters noted, this issue comes up when renting from DIA. Traveling north to Wyoming (as I do) is much faster using E470, but it’s an all-electronic toll road and nearly impossible to avoid the convenience fees on rental cars. My husband and I had a heated discussion about this last week after we rented our car, trying to decide if the service fees were worth the time saving. Our main issue was with the “per-day” fee for the entire length of the rental, not just for the days we actually used a toll road. We ended up taking the back road (104th) instead, on principle, but it added almost half an hour to our already long drive.
    I think a minimal service fee is fine, but I strongly believe that the fees that last the entire length of the rental are unfair.

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