Do I really have to pay this “congestion” charge in London?

It’s been almost a year since Terry Bienstock rented a Peugeot 3008 Hybrid in London, and for almost as long, he’s been fighting Avis over a pesky $162 traffic ticket.

The fee is something we Americans are unlikely to connect with: an £11.50 daily “congestion” charge London imposes on most motor vehicles operating within central London between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

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Bienstock believes the fee, which includes £30 in “administrative” charges, wasn’t adequately disclosed when he rented from Avis and therefore isn’t authorized to charge his card. He wants me to persuade the car rental company to refund his $162.

For those of you just tuning in, this feature is called Should I Take The Case? and it’s a completely unvetted case where you, the reader, tell me if I should advocate for a consumer.


Bienstock, who rented his car for three weeks last March, says he received a written notification of a nondescript “traffic offense” about a month after he returned to the States.

There was no explanation, and contrary to the customer agreement, Avis did not offer me the chance to contest the charge. Instead, Avis paid it and charged me a fee for paying it.

It took some time, but I finally found out that the charge from the City of London was not a traffic offense, but a congestion fee. Avis neither informed me of the possibility of such a fee, nor gave me the opportunity to contest it, and simply charged my AmEx account.

Bienstock disputed the charges in a firmly-written email:

I just received your letter claiming a right to impose a fee on my credit card for a City of London Usage Charge. I dispute your right to do so under the terms and conditions of the rental agreement, and demand you reverse any such charge.

The charge from the City of London is not a ‘traffic or parking charge. ‘Usage charges are nowhere mentioned in the terms and conditions, and are on any list of fees (as required) to be disclosed.

This charge, which I dispute (but you paid before I could even dispute it), was never disclosed by Avis or the City, and I have no idea what it is for or how I would have avoided it. The City also has no recourse against a US citizen for the charge and it should not have been paid.

You are not authorized to charge this against my credit card and I will so inform American Express.

I should note that Bienstock isn’t just a card-carrying frequent renter, but also an attorney. His email prompted this reply from Avis:

Thank you for your reply. I regret that we have failed to adequately address this complaint so far and offer my apologies for the inconvenience and considerable time elapsed since these issues were first highlighted.

I have reviewed your rental information in details and I can confirm that the levied Administration charges and penalties stand correct.

Regarding point 1 in your letter of the 9th of August, we were unable to transfer liability. The authorities and companies are within their rights to reject the representation and our records show that it was not accepted in [your case] which relates to a congestion charge billed by Transport for London.

As per the documents received from the local authority the vehicle was driven into the congestion charging zone without payment. Therefore our Traffic offence department had to apply the penalty charge and it has been added to your rental costs as per our terms and conditions of rental, Clauses 5(d) and 2(f).

ln point 2 you correctly note that we are not allowed to bill you the congestion charge for entering the Congestion Zone in London. However, that is not what happened and I would like to clarify this misunderstanding.

Clauses 5(d) and 2(f) ensure that the renter of the vehicle accepts liability for any and all fines during the rental. ln your case it seems that Transport for London believes that you failed to pay the relevant fees to enter the London Congestion Zone and Avis, as the owner of the vehicle, has been fined by Transport for London because of that.

Is your head spinning yet? So is mine.

But who’s right?

Well, in a sense both are correct. Avis’ lawyers made sure they wrote their contracts so that they could charge customers for anything they want after the rental, including parking offenses, speeding fines and damage to the vehicle. That’s an industry standard.

But Bienstock is also right. Avis should have explicitly warned him about the congestion charge. After all, he rented a vehicle in in London. That’s a little bit like failing to mention they drive on the left-hand side of the road in the U.K. I said “a little bit.” He’s not the first person to complain about congestion charges, and I’m sure he won’t be the last.

So why doesn’t Avis tell customers about the fees? Did it forget? Or could it possibly be the “administrative fee” it tacks on to each penalty received by the city of London? I wonder how many tourists simply allow a car rental company like Avis’ to let the charges stand, believing it’s not worth their time.

The more I think about Bienstock’s case, the more inclined I am to get involved. I know, I’m probably tilting at yet another windmill, but something about this process feels wrong. Even if I never recover his $162, I would at least get another nonresponse, and possibly from Avis’ legal team. I wonder how much their lawyers charge per hour?

Should I take Terry Bienstock's case?

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107 thoughts on “Do I really have to pay this “congestion” charge in London?

  1. I really don’t understand why people think that they’re exempt from local laws when they travel. It was Avis’ job to inform him that congestion fees exist in London? Why wasn’t it his responsibility to research information about driving in London? I run into this a lot when people come to California. Our child safety seat law is now 4’9″ or 8 years old. So many people think they can book shared vans and town cars, not provide a child safety seat, not even ask if the vendor can provide one, and then seem surprised when the driver won’t just transport their child anyway. It’s a minimum $445 ticket.

    1. I would say that California car rental companies should inform prospective clients at the time of the booking, or in an e-mail afterwards, about this rule because it is unusual and the client couldn’t be expected to deduce it; a child almost five feet tall would not normally be expected to need a special seat.

      1. Other than the fact that the law is nothing more than NHTSA’s recommendation codified. A recommendation that has been repeated in PSAs for a while.

        Sorry no… It’s not the rental car company’s responsibility to inform you of every law in the state.

        1. Let’s try this again. I said “California car rental companies should inform prospective clients …about this rule because it is unusual and the client couldn’t be expected to deduce it”. Not every law in the state, just the ones that one wouldn’t normally expect.

          1. Putting an eight-year-old child or a child almost five feet tall in a booster seat sounds unusual to me, but I’m not a parent so maybe not. My point is that rental car companies should notify the clients of any other expense to be incurred under state (as opposed to federal) law. Chris just did a case about car companies that add enormous daily surcharges for the rest of your rental period if you go through even one highway toll plaza. There’s a pattern here: they don’t tell you and then they charge you not only the normal amount but a huge administrative fee as well. You may think that this is a shining example of the free market economy; I disagree.

          2. “Putting an eight-year-old child or a child almost five feet tall in a booster seat sounds unusual to me…” It’s becoming the new norm and has good reasons behind it. My 8 yo is still in a booster (per my state’s laws – kids in boosters until age 9, plus height and weight requirements), and it feels perfectly normal to us…but still not the norm everywhere.

          3. It varies by company, but when I’ve rented a car in CA I’ve seen signs regarding child safety seats. In fact, I believe renters are required to acknowledge it when they sign the rental contract.

      2. Having two kids who could not sit in the front seat of the vehicle until they were 8 or 9, I’d have to agree with you. I believe for me we were told a certain age or weight, not necessarily height. One would expect people to know about following directional signs, but not knowing non posted laws about heightened scrutiny over child booster seats should be something to get a warning.

  2. Ignorance of the law is no excuse; he should know that better than anyone.

    Even if I believe Avis did not tell him about the fee means little because he would still have had to pay it. If he was there long enough to need a car for three weeks, I doubt the charge would have kept him from renting.

    Time to move on.

    1. Freehiker

      You only posted half of the “ancient” quote first written by the
      Medieval Anglo Courts: “Ignorancium Juris non excusat; Ignorancium Facti excusat.”
      “Ignorance of the law does not excuse, ingorance of a fact does excuse”

      Here the issue is: “what are the geographic boundries where the law applies.” One may be rquired to know there are legal parking law restrictions but the zones must be clearly marked.

      In fact, one of the early Assizes (Traveling) Courts using that legal maxim, held that a peasant charged with poaching on the King’s land could not raise the defense that he did not know it was illegal but he could raise the defense that he did not know the land was King’s land.

      1. Thanks for the history lesson….I think.

        Everyone here that is from or has been to London has said its impossible to not know you are entering the congestion zone where there’s a fee.

        Seems pretty straightforward to me.

        1. In the law, nothing is pretty straightforward. A slight change in the factual sitiuation can lead to a totally different decision under the same law. My comment was not a history lesson, it was a lesson in the law.

  3. Since he drove a car for three weeks, I’m going to assume this was not his first trip to London. Even if it were, the Usage / “Congestion” charge is hardly a secret. This seems like a case of a smart lawyer playing dumb. It’s not a good look.

    Tell him to pay up and save your efforts for the truly wronged.

    1. true. this reminds me of the other article about the woman who was a “savy traveler who worked in the industry” but didn’t know about germany’s passport requirements.

      I hate it when people write to insist that they are highly intelligent, superior beings- and even they did not know about this rule/law/practice- so it must be stopped! to help all the more “average” people who surerly are gettign effected every day by these scams!

      I have more sympathy for the “I’m a poor old person/single mom/veteran/etc– please get the evil company to give me sympathy for my situation”.

  4. On the one hand, he should have familiarized himself with the local rules – and the congestion charge is mentioned in most guidebooks – before deciding to drive in the UK. After all, do US car rental companies make a point of telling customers that Americans drive on the right or that many of our highways are toll roads? On the other hand, the UK, which relies heavily on foreign tourists, does certain things differently from most countries – including driving on the left and imposing the congestion charge – and the car rental company should have flagged those important differences. I think he should pay the congestion charge, which he owes to the City of London, but not the administrative tack-on by the rental car company.

    1. So a customer commits a traffic violation, the car rental company has to pay it, but they’re not allowed to recoup any of the cost of paying the fine and billing the customer. It’s not the equivalent of an individual getting a notice to pay in the mail and putting a stamp on their payment. An admin fee that’s about 20% doesn’t seem all that outrageous. It could have been closer to 50%.

      1. Yes, but with a qualification: if the “traffic violation” involves a local rule of which the rental company should reasonably have informed the client, then it’s somewhat disingenuous of the company to profit by its failure to notify the client.

        1. I see you edited your response. That’s a neat little trick. Say something condescending so that it goes to the recipient’s email, then edit it so Chris gets his nice, clean comments.

          1. My apologies – I thought I caught it soon enough. I got your reply in my e-mail and answered it thinking I was following another thread, for which “Now you’ve got it!” would have made better sense.

          2. You removed a sentenced and edited the now first sentence. That’s fine. You think you need to (rudely) teach me a lesson. These are the kinder, gentler comments that the mods are striving for. Everything is awesome!

          3. I removed a sentence in which I thought I was replying to someone else. I apologized and explained. You still think it’s all about you. You do need to learn a lesson, but I don’t think I can teach it to you.

          4. I really wasn’t disagreeing with you, just pointing out what I think is an issue with the commenting rules and the way they’re applied. But since you mentioned it, your reply was rude no matter who you said it to. Maybe you should have included in your edited response a note that you were editing it because you realized you replied to the wrong person.

          5. I love the new commenting rules and have no problem with the way they’re being applied so far; it’s so nice not to have certain people constantly making the same negative comments! But I don’t quite get this deal about getting replies in our e-mail; I used to read and vote, but not comment and since I made my edit within literally 10 seconds, I didn’t think about you getting the uncensored version.

      2. Only if the T&C allows the administrative fee to be collected. If the wording allows for the fee to be collected in the event of traffic fines or parking charges specifically and nothing about other fees, then they have no legal right to recoup the administrative fee.

  5. When you enter the zone there are signs. I see them when I am in London. Did he think because he was in a rental it did not apply to him?

  6. Where in London was the rental picked up from? I have seen prominent notices at quite a few rental companies at Heathrow stating that there would be a congestion charge to be paid if a car is taken into parts of central London during weekdays.

  7. I am in London regularly on business and occasionally rent a vehicle when I am there. However, when I have rented there are signs up everywhere in the rental offices–in the city and at LHR and LGW advising of the congestion charge. And in London there are signs up everywhere saying you are entering the congestion zone and will be charged.
    I think you should do what he did and simply ignore this one as he ignored all the signs in London about this charge.

    1. I try to get to the UK at least once a year, and accidently ended up driving through central London three years ago (seriously… missed an exit, and then all hell broke loose! lol), instead of around it. Fortunately, it was on a Saturday, so the fees did not apply…but I fully expected to be charged for MY mistake. As I white knuckled my way through London, I saw plenty of signs, and as soon as I got to my destination Googled “congestion fees” (and went to my rental car company’s website to see what my options might be). Although it wasn’t in a banner on their website, the info is there. On the trip the following year (where I fortunately did not get lost in London), I noticed much more info posted at the rental location. You just have to read it.

  8. I do not not know if AVIS mentions or has signage in its office about the fee. One of the links to a previous complaint about this charge is from 2008 so it is not a new charge. I do not think that the car rental company has an obligation or the resources to provide information on all possible parking and moving charges in a city.

  9. This is a waste of your time. As someone who drives in London regularly (but am originally from Cali), the congestion charge zones areas are extremely well marked with giant signs pointing to the fact that you are entering the congestion zone. Not paying attention to where you are driving is no excuse for not knowing the local rules.

  10. I don’t see how it’s Avis’s responsibility to explicitly list all local laws, fees, and fines. If he had received a ticket for an expired registration that would be one-thing, but this is clearly a fee caused by his personal usage of the vehicle.

    Avis’s contract clearly makes him liable for ANY government-imposed fees or fines while he has the vehicle. It’s completely not necessary for them to explicitly list all the different ones that exist.

    And he’s completely incorrect about the charge not being disclosed by the city; it’s quite clearly marked. There are warning signs when you approach the zone, signs on the curb when you enter the zone, and gigantic colored “C”s on the asphalt in case you missed the other signs.

  11. What’s next? Does he want Avis to pay his speed fines because he got caught by a speed camera? Or, the fine he got for turning on red? Or, the fine for driving on the wrong side of the road?

    When you rent a car, you are responsible for obeying all local laws. You are solely responsible for knowing all the local laws.

    Oh … and if you are paying attention, you can’t miss the signs. Here’s the page from the AA on it ( )

    1. Damn! Ten pounds a day… that’s fifteen bucks! Just to drive downtown. How has this lovely little government money grab not made it to America? :-p

  12. Congestion zones in England. ZTL’s in Italy. Similar zones in other cities laid out in Medieval times and unable to handle modern traffic. EVERY guidebook lists them. They all have signs. This is a lawyer trying to split hairs. Walk away!

    1. NAH! This guy probably saw all the signs, drove into them figuring since he was a tourist he would not pay when he left. His one comment about a tourist not having to pay because their laws would not be enforceable in the U.S. explains it all.

  13. Reminds me of my ticket from Venice for driving in a restricted zone. I had no idea I was in one but do remember thinking “finally.. less traffic”. A year later the ticket shows up in the mail. I emailed and ask for proof, and they promptly sent me a picture of what looks like to be the car I was driving on the date I was in town. Love those traffic cams. So, while it suck that I didn’t know, I apparently did the “crime”, so I paid the fine. Which this guy should do…

  14. Avis have notices on the desk at all airports and many other pick up points in the UK warning of the London congestion charge and as others have noted, there are warning signs between 3 and 5 miles out from the zone allowing you to review your route and at the point of joining there are signs on the road itself and other signs at eye level. Anyone who fails to see them, has eyesight that should stop them driving! This is a no win scenario

  15. Something we in America don’t connect with? That’s odd, I thought that tolls were quite common in America. That’s all the congestion charge is. I am not just being a cynical American because I am from England, I know all about the congestion charge even though it was introduced after I left, it’s clearly marked when you enter the zone, and you even have time to pay it afterwards. I’d be surprised if Avis didn’t make it clear too.

  16. I’ve driven in London. The only way not to be aware of entering central London and being responsible for the congestion charge is if you drive with your eyes closed. (For the lawyers here reading this and looking to blame others for their offenses: I do not recommend that.)

    Furthermore, the congestion charge has been around for more than a decade. In the UK, it would not qualify as “unusual.”

    Furthermore, there are more traffic cameras in London than you would rationally expect. The city is covered with CCTV. The evidence of a vehicle inside the congestion-fee area will be somewhere on a time-stamped video. Contesting this would have been very difficult, and expensive. (The only plausible defense would have been if the ticket indicated a time outside the rental window.)

    Worse — the initial complaint — that “usage fees” were not the same as “traffic and parking fees” and were therefore not disclosed — since that seems to be the primary complaint, that’s a legal issue, and not a consumer advocate issue. The complainant should take it up in one of the crown’s courts on contract law. For a consumer advocate, I’d feel that a “usage fee” that is directly related to traffic would be reasonable to he a “traffic” related expense. So, for a common person, this is fair. Let a proper court decide if there was a legal loophole in the contract.

    1. I agree. You can’t miss the signs, they are very, very clear. Avis isn’t responsible for notifying it’s customers anywhere of local laws. In fact, when I’ve rented cars in states I haven’t lived in I always review the laws for things like right turn on red and u-turn laws as those do vary and I’ve found the staff generally doesn’t know the law. Unless he’s claiming he was mistakingly billed for a ticket and was no where near central London, to my mind he broke the law and is responsible for that.

      Incidentally, with the outstanding public transportation available in London and most of Europe, there is no need to rent a car, especially if you’re only visiting a major city. It’s far less expensive, stressful, and faster to take the Underground, a bus, or even a cab.

      1. I’ll agree about public transportation in London and most other European cities. Last time I hired a car in London was 2003, when I needed to go to Southwold (on the Suffolk coast) for a wedding.

    2. I agree! When I was there, I took public transit/walked and even I saw the signs, heard about, and knew the rules of the congestion fees. If you do not know about it, I think it is called blind ignorance, where you purposefully choose to not know the law, or you just choose to ignore it.

  17. Got news for you, London signs are in English!!!! So lawyer gets ticket, and claims no chance of disputing. Avis sees it as it’s their cars, and lawyer is no longer in the country. Avis would do this in the States with HOV offenders. Why wouldn’t Avis just pay the tickets and charge the offender (instead of having a foreigner leave the country after offending and saying he didn’t have a chance to dispute with someone else’s car?) Maybe Avis should sue the lawyer…..

  18. Today my heartlessness puts me in a small majority on something I didn’t feel too strongly about. If the lETTER wRITER (remember to spell this out this phrase, everyone, please) is a lawyer, he should have been astute enough to have known about this charge.

  19. I tend to side with the consumer, but not on this one. If this “congestion fee” is an equal opportunity local law, then I think he needs to chalk it up to lesson learned and pay up. I wouldn’t expect Avis to tell him that people drive on the left side of the road either.

  20. I live in London. There are signs absolutely everywhere you enter the Congestion Charge zone saying that it applies. Many also give a phone number and website where you pay it. LW doesn’t have an excuse; Transport for London (not the City of London) correctly issued the rental company a violation, which it needed to pay. (By the way, the standard violation amount in London’s £130, which is $200 and change, so LW seems to have gotten off lightly.)

    1. A $200 fine for driving in the city? That makes zero sense. Unless you are talking about things like speeding and other traffic infractions that have a standard fine.

      1. If you pay the congestion charge “on account” or you make a one-off payment at one of the many facilities to do so, you don’t have to pay the full fine. I expect that rental car agencies have an account to pay when a renter wanders into the zone, and just like tolls in the US, they charge a fee to pass that on to the renter.

      2. The standard congestion charge is £11.50 ($17.50). £130 is the cost of a traffic violation in London, of which not paying a congestion charge is an example. And there are cameras everywhere.

  21. The really sad thing about Americans and the congestion charge is that the American Embassy and US diplomats who drive here refuse to pay, refuse to pay the fines, and when their cars are clamped or towed get them right back. The US Government, scofflaw that it is, claims that this is a “tax” that they do not have to pay under international law. The UK Government says that this is a fee, which the USans would have to pay. Stalemate. I say tell the lawyer to get lost and pay his fines and drive more intelligent next time.

    1. According to the Supreme Court in our country, a fine is a tax. Therefore, when the government sees the word fine, it considers it a tax which it does not have to pay.

    2. To be fair, all of the UN and consular diplomats from everywhere else I the world (including your beloved UK) here in NYC do the exact same thing. periodically, the NYPD will go on a spree and start booting diplomats cars like crazy, and the state department usually has to get involved.

      1. To be really fair, that is a fine, not a user’s fee. Totally different. I don’t think you’ll find UK diplomatic cars evading the tolls on the Manhattan bridges and tunnels. Fines are judicial charges for not paying something that was due or committing a crime that’s not serious enough to warrant a prison term.

        1. You’d have to be Evil Knievel to evade the bridge and tunnel tolls; they funnel you into a line and it’s impossible to escape! Trust me, if the diplomats could do it, they would; there seems to be a difference of opinion as to what their immunities are.

  22. It is only $162… I know there is a “principle” behind the discussion, but really?!?!?!?! $162?!?!?!?!?! Your time is more valuable than this. Do not his hourly rate, but $162?!?!?!?!? Really?!?!?

  23. I had some sympathy right up until the crack about how he’s exempt being a US citizen.. I don’t get to drive through all the US tolls in my hire car when travelling through California so i’m afraid ignorance is not an excuse. He should suck it up and pay!

  24. I voted no, only because I found out that the LW is a lawyer. That’s not saying lawyers have money or are rich, but more than he should be able to read, understand, and sign a contract and actually know what it says.
    He also claims that the city has no recourse against him as an American citizen, so why not just prove that case? Also, even if the fines are legit, does the contract allow for the administrative fees for these other charges? (since they are not traffic infractions?)

  25. The congestion charge is, unlike a traffic offense, indisputable. If you go into the zone, you are liable for the charge. And, Chris is right in that its sort of like knowing they drive on the left side–everybody in London knows it!

    Probably Avis should tell their customers about the charge, and for that reason it is reasonable for this DYKWIA bozo to dispute their administrative fee, but he needs to give up and admit he’s liable for the charge itself. And the BS about being exempt becaue he’s an American citizen…oh, PUHLEEEEEZE! That’s why American citizens like you should never cross outside the US borders–you embarrass the rest of us.

  26. What did American Express have to say when they were informed? Probably something like, “You did the crime; now do the time!”

  27. Many European cities have these congestion charges, and some are even regulating what vehicles (odd vs even numbered plates) can enter into the city centers at certain times of day. Just because you rented a car from Avis in London does not mean that you will be travelling into the congestion charge areas. If I am remembering correctly from my time spent in London, it was really only the downtown/business area that had the charge. This may have changed since I was there, but it was not the whole of London. I, of course, think trying to drive in London is crazy, as public transit is awesome there, but that is just me. I am sure many people rent cars in London, only to drive them straight out to another part of England.
    On the other hand, it would have been nice if the Avis person had informed him of the potential for the fee and pointed out on a map where the fees began. I still think at the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the traveler to know the traffic laws of the area they are driving in. So shame on Avis for not telling him, but shame on him for not knowing or educating himself. Maybe Avis could cover the $30 admin charge for the oversight.

  28. I vacationed in London last March with my family and we rented a flat for a week right in the center of London. When we decided to take a day trip to Oxford and Stonehenge I rented a car from Hertz (3 blocks inside the congestion zone). When I went to Hertz to pick up the car the agent told me several times about the congestion fee and said I would be subject to the charge if I did not return the car outside the enforced hours. He also said if I did not pay the charge at the time of the rental or at the time of the return I could be subject to a significant fine. My rental contract was not as clear but essentially noted the same thing. Not sure why Mr Bienstock was not aware of this or did not ask about any additional fees as many of the M roads in and out of London are toll roads

  29. Somebody has to break through the circular logic employed by Avis. You are in a favorable position to do that, Bienstock is not.

  30. Peugeot 3008 Hybrid should comply with Euro 5 emissions rules, which would make it exempt from the congestion charge, no?

    1. It does comply with the Euro 5 emission rules, but emits just over the allowable emissions. The limit is 75g/km but the 3008 emits 88g/km according to the website.

  31. I do think Avis should have informed the LW of the congestion charge and advised him how to pay without incurring the fine. Although if he had the, ahem, fortitude to drive in central London, I imagine he is a frequent traveler there, so I’m really surprised he’s pleading ignorance. A few years ago I rented a car in San Francisco. They clearly advised me it was against the law there to use my smart phone as a GPS. At the time, those laws were not commonplace, although now my own city has passed a similar law. I would have used Google Maps the entire time and not have dreamed there was a problem. I also wonder what is in place for tourists to pay the charge legit before they are fined for it. I looked on the Transport for London webside, and it looks like you either get an electronic tag, or you pay as you go? Not sure how the latter would work unless you have until the end of they day to pay the fine. I wonder if pay as you go would work for tourists with rental cars, and if not, what are they supposed to do?

    Has the LW considered the consequences of not paying, and future travel to the UK? I didn’t find anything definitive in my short period of googling, but enough to suggest that he really should just pay the fine already to avoid any unpleasant surprises at Customs next time. Goodness, he’s an attorney, this is chump change for him. And regardless that he didn’t know about the law – it’s the law. Avis should eat any admin charges, IMO.

  32. The crux of this problem is that Avis should be under a duty to advise and disclose to their customers the details and geographic areas subject to London’s Congestion Fee. This situation is even more outrageous since the car was rented at an Avis London location and conceivably attached when driving out of their garage.

        1. No, it’s not an entitlement issue at all. It’s 1000 years of evolving Anglo American law that started with the assumtion that contracts were negotiated between both parties, not one party with a take it or leave it attitude. Since Avis wrote the contract, multiple pages with “fine print” the contract is interpreted in the best light to the rentor not Avis. Also, any “hidden” costs must be divulged before renting. (That’s what led to the collision damage waiver notice)

      1. Jim
        If we followed your view, nothing anyone says would be taken as true. No legal system follows that theory. In Anglo/American law, a persons assertion is taken as true unless rebutted by another persons assertion. Moreover, since a rentor MUST sign the contract written soley by Avis, such notice would be required to be on a document, just like collision damage waivers, and intialed by the rentor.

        1. A claim isn’t evidence of anything. Perhaps he didn’t pay attention. We already know that he didn’t heed the traffic signs as if they did not apply to him.

  33. “Is your head spinning yet?”
    No, this is just a lawyer attempting to use semantics to get out of a fine they incurred while driving. The congestion fee signs are everywhere in London. When I chose a car there last time I specifically requested an electric car so I could avoid having to pay the fee or inadvertently driving into a congestion zone. Avis’s interpretation is clearly correct, the congestion fee is $11.50 per day and the ticket was for a FINE they were assessed for not paying it or getting a permit. Bottom line is they owe the fine and Avis had every right to collect it.
    Now, Avis’s $30 Admin fee is a different story. I agree that it’s excessive and a gotcha fee. When I drive in London I pulled over into a no parking zone to check my map. When I got home I received a ticketed for parking in a no parking zone in the mail. They nailed me by camera. I had to pay the stupid no parking fee (perhaps it was a no stopping zone) either way I knew it was my fault but that $30 admin fee still sucks.

  34. I voted yes. It’s a customer service issue. I’m following the Chris’s logic. I’m sure there had been many renters complaining about the fine and the fee before Bienstock. Customers tend to complain when there is an unexpected charge. If Avis wants to collect the money smoothly, then why don’t they explain it to renters upfront? How hard is that? I can only imagine that they are reluctant to do so only because it’s easy money for them. It’s not like an American would come back to London and grill an agent at the counter over an hour about the charge, but if we do so, I’m sure they’ll start explaining the fee.

  35. Pretty interesting that the guy is a lawyer, yet he wants Chris to take his case up. That tells me he doesn’t think he has a leg to stand on, but believes Chris can use his soapbox to get Avis to back off.

    A ton of people with real life experience say that there are signs everywhere, at the airport, and as you end the congestion zone, making you aware of the charge. Given the “attorney’s” statement that “The City has no recourse against a US citizen”, I can’t help but wonder if he knew he incurred the charge when he did it, but thought there wasn’t any way that someone could tag him with the charge. I suspect he knew about it. He was wrong in thinking there was no ability for the City to collect. He should pay.

  36. Don’t get involved between him and the City of London, Chris.

    As a lawyer, he should know that “ignorance of the law excuses no man.” He was required to obey it whether or not it was disclosed to him by Avis, the City of London, or Elvis’s ghost. Apparently he failed to do his homework before or when he rented the car. That doesn’t excuse him from being responsible for the fine, whether Avis paid it for him or not.

    That said, if Avis is charging him an “administrative” fee on top of the congestion fee, by all means I agree with contesting that.

  37. I remember reading about the congestion fee a number of years ago in an article suggesting this might be used in large urban areas in the USA. I point this out, because this can’t be the first surprised London car renter that Avis has had. As far as I’ve read, no city in the US has a congestion fee.

    I fault Avis for bad customer relations. Why would Avis London want to continue explaining the congestion fee to foreign (US) renters? Why not put a statement (warning) for their London rentals, that London has a congestion fee and it is the drivers responsibility to pay these after the rental if Avis receives such notice?

    Such notice would avoid irate customers and save a lot of time answering question.

    Stupid is as stupid does

  38. Absolutely take this case, Chris. It’s the perfect example of a growing trend of “who cares” about their customers. Common sense tells you that an American driving in London would have little opportunity to read signs! There’s no excuse for the rental companies not reviewing these little situations BEFORE you leave the counter. They’re just lazy and I’m weary of people not doing their jobs … then shrugging their shoulders and referring to 3 pages of legalese on the rental agreement. It’s negligence on Avis’ part, they can do better by their customers. My last rental car from Enterprise in Fort Lauderdale came with a little flyer explaining the automatic toll road situation … this is how to treat your customers.

  39. Avis is right actually, in that congestion charge is a standard daily car fee that has been standard in London for years. It’s designed to encourage people to take the transit instead of driving in London. But it needs to be disclosed for visitors.

    1. From everywhere I’ve seen, it is. Airport and city desks all have signs, and you’d have to be blind to miss the signs around the Zone

  40. Every time I assist a client with car rental arrangements in London, a notice about the congestion charge is very prominent. Plus with signs posted at the congestion zone, I really don’t think he has an excuse. He should chalk it up to a learning experience.

    Having said that – I just used to make a reservation (assuming this is what Beinstock did) and there isn’t any notice on the website or in the confirmation email relating to the congestion charge. So, they would have had to give notice at the counter either with signs or verbally.

    I do believe that car rental agencies renting in places such as London with unique and confusing policies like a congestion charge should let the renter know about them, however they aren’t under any obligation to do so.

    And yes, I’m going to say it – had Bienstock made his arrangements through a travel consultant familiar with London (such as myself) he would have receive more than adequate notification.

  41. I don’t side with corporations when they use legal and contractual wrangling to sneak unexpected, meritless fees onto consumers, and I can’t side with the LW, who seems to be trying to use the contract language to his advantage to make Avis pay his congestion charge. I can’t say the $30 “administrative fee” sits very well with me, but that’s because I suspect it’s more than Avis actually spent paying the fine.

  42. I must admit, I haven’t been in London since 1997, but I didn’t rent a car when I was there on two separate business trips (a total of seven days). Their subways, taxis, and buses were all affordable, very easy to find and use, and I never had to walk more than a couple of blocks anywhere. Has the cost of their mass transit risen so high that it’s cheaper to rent a car and pay the congestion fee?

      1. Really? I find it very affordable, especially since I bought a reload able Oyster Card which lets me ride the tube, buses and other transit at very reduced rates. Anyone who is spending more than a couple days in London should look into getting one. I can ride from LHR to Victoria station for 3 pounds with the Oyster.

        1. I had an Oyster card and somehow managed to spend about $100 in two days without making all that many trips! Maybe there’s some kind of day pass that I missed; I’ll have to check next time.

          1. Not sure what happened with your card. But that just doesn’t sound right if you just travelled around the city.

            There are a lot of ways to spend more for a ride, like using the tube during peak morning hours or missing a touch-out point, but the Oyster is always supposed to be the least expensive option being even better than the day passes since what you are charged is capped at the equivalent day pass rate and if you don’t spend that much you pay the lower amount.

            If you use Oyster for the trains that go to the areas surrounding London, like Windsor Castle, those are not included in the cap and will cost more on your daily charge.

  43. I don’t usually defend the rental company, but here they are completely in the right. When you get in a car you are responsible for knowing all local laws. If you get in someone else’s car, you owe them if they get fined because of you.
    “That’s a little bit like failing to mention they drive on the left-hand side of the road in the U.K”

    I’ve never rented in the UK, but in the US they don’t tell me I have to drive on the right.

  44. What? Does Avis have to tell you about every bridge toll you might come across? Where there are carpool lanes and how many passengers they require? You should mediate this case. On behalf of Avis so this guy will leave them alone.

  45. Laughable assertion that a car hire co should inform you of every possible toll or speed restriction or every conceivable penalty charge that could occur

  46. Yes, you do have to pay.

    I fail to understand why it could in any way be the fault of the car rental company if you, the renter, fails to observe any local laws or rules applicable to driving a car and get fined or ticketed, especially if you are a frequent or a long term visitor to the place where the incident occurs.

    And I bet Avis will reword its contract to include “usage or other imposed fees” in the future. 🙂

  47. Do NOT take this case! London congestion fees are no different that driving on toll roads in the US. Anyone with half a brain should be aware that driving in London is not free (not really any different than taking any bridge or tunnel into Manhattan). Yes, the rental companies rip us off with some sort of administrative fee, but it is worth the convenience.

    On a related note, I am not sure why anyone would want to drive in downtown London – between the congestion fees, parking and aggravation, public transportation is a no brainer.

  48. Chris: I have been to London many times and there are many signs regarding the “congestion zone”. It would be hard to miss them.

  49. My head is not spinning at all.
    The American lawyer fails to note that the London administration bills the entity to which the car is registered to, not an “American citizen” directly. As a person who rented and drove Avis’ car, it is up to him to know the rules. Avis rents cars, they don’t give driving lessons. It is assumed that if you have a driver’s license and you rent a car, that you should know or learn the rules.

    I concur with Mr. Beatty. There are signs all over and when you see all of the signs stating “congestion zone” it is best that you figure out what it means.

    Rather than waste everyone’s time over an issue that the renter should have realized – and should accept the penalty for had he not realized, he should just pay the fine. Avis does not deserve to have a bunch of their time wasted over this. The administration charge of GBP 30 is for paying and passing along the fine, not an endless dialogue about something that should be obvious.

    There is no case here.

  50. Never been to London, not an experienced traveler, but even I know that London has congestion charges. C’mon man. Surely something was mentioned in one of your tour books!

  51. I’ve never heard of a congestion zone/charge before (though I would agree that if going to London, use the Underground). Do the signs adequately disclose that there is a charge? If I saw a sign that just said “congestion zone” that would not necessarily clue me (an infrequent traveler) in to their being a toll to use the road, unlike a toll bridge or toll road, where I have to pay the fee before I can use the bridge/road.

    Its why I love coming to this site to learn all these little travel tidbits.

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