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.

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?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

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.

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirportParkingReservations.com

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at AirportParkingReservations.com, ParkSleepFly.com, AirportParking.com, and ShuttleFinder.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by G1G.com

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend