When Walter Heleen returned from Italy last May, he thought he’d paid all of his bills. But there was just one more thing to settle up. OK, maybe two.
“In August, I had a charge from Hertz on our credit card,” he says. “When I called them, they told me I had a traffic violation in Bologna and they were charging for the Bologna Police.”
Total penalty: $103.
Traffic fees in Italy are legendary. I’ve investigated traffic cameras on numerous occasions and the often uneasy relationship between local police departments, car rental companies and their customers. Many motorists refuse to pay these fines, convinced they are scams.
Heleen recently received another letter from Italy, this time from the Bologna police department. They wanted their $103.
“I wrote to them and told them I had reimbursed Hertz for this and I had paid the fine,” he says. “But yesterday, I got another letter from the Bologna Police. They said I must pay the $103 by wire transfer.”
“Do you think this is true or is it a scam?” he asks. “I thought Hertz had paid the fine and I had reimbursed them.”
Of course you shouldn’t have to pay the same fine twice, and you don’t have to be a math teacher to know that. (As a matter of fact, Heleen is a math teacher.) But this may not be so simple.
Heleen paid Hertz, which promised to settle his bill. But he didn’t owe the money to Hertz – he needed to pay it to Bologna. So technically, he still owes the city for the $103, whether Hertz paid the fine for him or not.
There are so many things that could have happened.
- Hertz may have paid the fine, but Bologna lost the records.
- Hertz kept the money.
- There’s a second traffic fine that Hertz failed to mention.
- Bologna double-billed Heleen by accident.
Are we having fun yet?
I’ll get to the bottom of this. I’ve asked Heleen for his records and am advising him not to pay anything until he has a clearer explanation of the fine.
Beyond that, I wonder why Italy installs all of these “gotcha” cameras that record the smallest infractions and bill drivers by mail. Do these cameras make the roads safer? Or do they unfairly target drivers who aren’t familiar with the country’s arcane driving laws to line the city’s pockets?
Those are questions worth asking.
I’ve handled enough of these cases to know that something smells in Bologna. And Rome. And Florence. The cameras almost certainly target tourists, and car rental companies have become their willing accomplice, collecting fees and surcharges associated with each traffic violation.