Trips & Trends

Toll Pass Lanes Squeeze Extra Money from Car Renters

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

 

Courtesy:MTA

by Christine Dayao

If you’re among the 40 million motorists hitting the roads this Thanksgiving, you might have to budget some extra dough for your rental car.

Some major highways in the Sunshine State, for instance, do not accept cash or credit cards due to its implementation of cashless toll roads. There is no one manning the booths.

Therefore, major rental car companies offer toll passes that are advertised as timesavers to let you breeze through toll plazas, but come at an extra cost.

Dollar and Thrifty offer Pass24, a prepaid toll service option that gives car renters 24 hours of unlimited access to toll roads for one price.

While you do have the option to forego buying the pass, you may be slapped with some extra charges when going through the cashless tolls.

“It’s a pretty good deal if you use a lot of toll roads, but otherwise, it’s a rip-off. It takes advantage of the cashless toll roads in a clever way,” said Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocate in Florida.

The cost of Pass24, which is provided by Rent a Toll, is $7.99 per rental day or $41.99 weekly; but here’s the rub, it must be purchased for each day that you have the rental—even on days that you do not pass through tolls.

Like many toll-pass programs, Pass24 reads registered license plates through video technology, taking photos of the vehicle as it passes through toll facilities.

If a non-participating renter drives through one of the cashless toll roads, which are dedicated to Florida’s SunPass, EPASS and LeeWay, a photo of the license plate is taken and the rental company is charged for the toll.

The driver’s on-file credit card will be billed by the rental company the toll price plus a $15 to $25 administrative fee for each infraction (to a maximum fee of $105).

According to SunPass’ rental page, the tolls and fees are charged separately to the rental agreement after the completion of the rental.

Major rental companies have separate programs and fees associated with cashless toll roads. However, they are not as stringent as the terms of use for Pass24. Hertz, for example, uses the PlatePass program but drivers do not have to decide anything at the time of rental.

Those renters are automatically opted-in when they drive through the cashless SunPass, EPASS and LeeWay lanes. According to Paula Rivera of the Hertz Corporation, “the renter is charged for the tolls at the highest undiscounted rate plus $4.95 per day, up to a $24.75 monthly cap.

If a customer doesn’t want to use PlatePass, they must pay all tolls with cash (if a cash option in available) or with their own toll transponder compatible to the toll road.”

The $4.95 is charged even on days the renter does not go through a toll. If you’re traveling from out of state to Florida, chances are you won’t have the SunPass, EPASS or LeeWay toll transponders and not all states participate in the same toll transponder programs. Therefore, you’re locked into paying these fees to the rental company.

The daily fee is less than Pass24’s and there is no administrative fee charged by the rental company. PlatePass will automatically charge the credit card used for the rental one to three weeks after the car is returned.

Avis takes part in the e-Toll program. By driving through the specially-marked lanes, drivers are automatically opted-in to the program, which charges the renters’ credit card the cost of tolls plus a $2.95 “convenience fee” per day of rental, including days when the driver does not use tolls.

Alamo, National and Enterprise participate in the TollPass program. The optional service charges the driver $2.95 per rental day that the customer incurs tolls plus the cost of tolls. With this program, the driver is only charged on days that they actually pass through tolls.

Car renters crossing New York’s Henry Hudson Bridge, which went cashless in November 2012, need to be participating in a qualifying toll-pass program or be billed by mail at a higher rate.

When rental car drivers without a toll-pass go through the Hudson tolls, a bill, charging the amount of the toll, will be sent to the rental company, who will then charge the renter along with possible extra charges.

For instance, Enterprise’s administrative fee is between $10 and $15.

Beware that each of the toll programs is not available in every state.

You may get stuck with more unwanted charges if you pass through a cashless toll road that is not served by your toll program. For example, if you’re renting from Alamo and using TollPass in Florida but decide to drive to Georgia where TollPass is not accepted, expect to be charged a $25 administrative fee on top of the cost of all unpaid tolls.

A list of participating states for Pass24 can be found here (Dollar) and here (Thrifty); see here for PlatePass; this list for e-Toll and; here for TollPass.

Car rental agencies are notorious for adding extra fees to unsuspecting drivers and this is just another consumer-unfriendly tactic that you should steer clear of.

“You’re better off avoiding toll roads and opting out of this,” said Elliott.

 

Editorial Note: The original version of this post was published May 13, 2013.

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