Are Fees Out of Control for Electronic Tolls Using Rental Cars?

“M y daughter drove a Thrifty rental car on two toll roads in a single day. Thrifty is charging us $90 in fees, $15 for each gantry she drove under. Literal highway robbery.”

That complaint posted by FlyerTalk member dhacker is only one in the latest of a litany of complaints pertaining to electronic tolls for motorists — to the point where the word gantry is considered negative.

“I get hung up on not offering the EZ-Pass discount. I understand Budget $4 a day max $16 (or whatever) but they charge for the use of electronic tolls but the CASH price of the toll without the EZ-Pass discount is also charged.” FlyerTalk member Brighton Line then continued with this statement: “For Verrazano Bridge in NYC that is $16 instead of $11.08, other MTA crossing $8 compared to $5.54, nice little extra for their pocket (or the company they use to process the toll).”

…and the pain of electronic tolls continues to be felt by more and more FlyerTalk members.

Are Fees Out of Control for Electronic Tolls Using Rental Cars?

Paying tolls was already inconvenient — whether you rented or owned a vehicle: having to stop and fish for change, which delayed getting you to your destination…

…but although the advent of electronic tolls eliminated the delay and inconvenience while driving, it added a host of other inconveniences — such as having an account to regularly monitor to ensure that you are paying the correct amount of tolls. With all of the frequent travel loyalty programs, banking relationships, utilities and other accounts you are already managing, the last thing you need is yet another account to manage.

Now rental car companies are attempting to cash in on electronic tolls as a profit opportunity. Not only do some of them charge seemingly exorbitant fees; but they also charge for things which for them are pure profit — such as billing the cash price of a toll rather than the reduced price of the transponder you are already renting with your rental car…

…and if the authority which operates and manages the highway on which electronic toll gantries are installed does not receive its toll money from you, you could potential owe or pay stiff fines — such as $17,000.00 for $36.00 in unpaid tolls in one extreme case; or $45.00 for fewer than $2.75 in unpaid tolls.

Avoiding Tolls

I am usually successful in avoiding tolls — electronic or otherwise — but that practice is becoming increasingly difficult.

Some places are easier to avoid tolls than others: for example, if you are driving in Dubai and do not want to pay any electronic tolls which are cashless, simply avoid Highway E11 — which is also known as Sheikh Zayed Road. That was rather easy for me, as there are alternate highways and roads which can be used.

However, I found avoiding electronic tolls in South Africa — which have been referred to as “economic apartheid” — to be more difficult; but I managed to be successful for the most part despite driving all over the southeastern part of the country.

You can use a global positioning system software or devices to help navigate your way around tolls in real time; or you can use Google Maps as an option to avoid tolls, as shown in the screen shot below…

Imagery ©2015 TerraMetrics. Map data ©2015 courtesy of Google Maps.

…but be aware that Google Maps is not always accurate; so do your homework. Most highways with tolls have their own Internet web sites where you can conduct some research pertaining to additional information about tolls which are charged to motorists.

If you want to take toll roads but do not want to pay the fees rental car companies are charging, consider renting or purchasing a transponder or other equipment from the authority which operates and manages the toll road instead of using the one offered by the rental car company.

Summary

I have already expressed my 35 cents worth of my opinion pertaining to tolls in general — but especially with regard to electronic tolls, as they can be an expensive proposition on their own…

…but the practice of rental car companies attempt to gouge customers in ways similar to airlines with carrier-imposed fees and lodging companies with mandatory resort fees is outrageous and unacceptable, in my opinion. I am sure that rental car companies can get by and still bring in increased revenue from the advent of electronic tolls without having to resort to fees which border on usurious.

In other words, renting cars and using them on highways equipped with electronic toll gantries should not take a toll on you.

Rental car companies, airlines and lodging companies are in business to profit. I get that; and I understand that they are within the law and not breaking it — at least, as far as I know. However, taking advantage of customers by pouring on the fees — in some cases, hoping the customer does not notice them when they seem to be hidden — is a great way to alienate them when they have a choice…

…especially when the time comes where the economy falters — and that will happen eventually — and instead of having a legion of loyal customers who will stick with them through those bad times, they might be required to “give away the store” by offering deals they would not currently offer.

It has happened before; and if this egregious behavior continues, it will happen again…

…so I will ask you: should I post an article — similar to this article pertaining to a list of hotel and resort properties which charge mandatory resort fees — which lists toll roads around the world; links to the authorities which operate and manage them; how much they cost; and how to avoid them?

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

14 thoughts on “Are Fees Out of Control for Electronic Tolls Using Rental Cars?”

  1. Leighann says:

    …or you could rent from a company like Dollar rental and pay one time fee of $21usd for an EZ pass “plate pass” which covers the expense of ALL tolls. No extra fees, even when the cost of tolls exceeds 21.00

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Thank you for that information, Leighann.

      I have avoided Dollar Rent-a-Car for years because of a customer service issue which occurred, so I will most likely not rent from them again; but your information will be potentially valuable to readers of The Gate who will benefit from it.

  2. Tim says:

    In Dubai it’s illegal for the rental company to charge fees on top of the toll. I am always charged just the toll without fees as it should be.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      As I avoided the toll road in Dubai altogether without having to go out of my way, I did not know that, Tim.

      Thank you.

  3. Jon says:

    Denver has a toll road that leads to the airport that has no toll booths and no option to pay with cash or credit card. Instead, they scan your license plate as you exit and send you a bill. And if you have the misfortune of driving a rental car, that means the rental car company will hunt you down and make you pay for the toll + extra fees that the rental car company charges. This is pushing the limits of what I think is fair.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I completely agree with you, Jon.

      Thank you for the alert pertaining to the toll between Denver and the airport. Years have passed since I was in Denver; and yet I do not remember there being a toll. That must have been installed in recent years…

  4. Chris R says:

    I have never used or accepted on the contract the rental car transponder but always paid tolls with cash. If toll roads have no cash booths, only electronic, I avoid them. It’s amazing it took a decade to track down Osama Bin Laden, but rental car companies can track you down in a nano second if you owe. I’m fearful with all the technology though that rental companies will simply force a built-in system of toll collecting, regardless if you want it or not. Sorta like hotel resort fees. Metro NYC is geographically one of the most lucrative for robbing motorists, especially the Hudson crossings. The S.F. Bay area too is bad and going to get worse as the population has exploded and the geography favors the greedy state, city, counties in ‘you wanna travel, you’re going to pay whatever we ask.’ The techies in Silicon Valley though could care less if they pay a $50 dollar toll. Portugal went a few years back to total electronic only toll collecting and that place can get you into trouble quickly. France and Italy are OK, very expensive, but they at least have cash/credit card booth payments. But as Brian C. states he gets around them when possible and it is possible to avoid most of the racket of highway robbery tolls.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Having been born and raised in New York City, I completely agree with you, Chris R.

      Who would have thought that one day, the tolls would approach the cost of a moderately priced meal at a restaurant? I realize that the cost of the toll is really factored in for a round trip; but $16.00 simply for crossing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge?!?

  5. DaninMCI says:

    These are all bad. No cash toll roads are my “favorite” even if not in a rental car.
    The M50 in Dublin is bad for sure.

    I also like how rental car companies add on huge fees for speed camera fines also. They pay the fine, which means they pleaded guilty for you and then bill you the fine plus extra fees.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      That is an excellent point, DaninMCI.

      There are those who believe that all bets are off once the law is broken — such as driving faster than the posted speed limit, as you used as an example — and have no sympathy for those who have to pay the excessive fees as a result.

      This could be an idea for a future article. Thank you…

  6. Noah says:

    I don’t think it is the same as a resort fee. It is a separate service that costs them money to operate and has a tangible benefit.

    However, there needs to be some reality check. Paying a daily fee for a used transponder on days you dont encounter a toll is just wrong. Some sanity needs to be brought back on pricing. Espcially since many governments don’t let you easily pay it yourself instead of the rental car company (cashless tolls, websites that require car ownership to pay tolls, etc.)

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      You are correct with your reasoning that the fees rental car companies charge are different from mandatory resort fees, Noah. The main difference is indeed that mandatory resort fees exist primarily to entice customers with what appears to be the marketing of lower room rates; whereas rental car companies charge fees for electronic tolls because it can potentially cost them money when a car rented from them is on a highway equipped with them…

      …but where I equate them is in their excessiveness — as you say, the “reality check.” As much as I completely agree with you that “some sanity needs to be brought back on pricing” with regard to rental car companies pertaining to electronic tolls; so should a similar sanity be also applied to mandatory resort fees.

  7. Bill says:

    Once in Dallas did everything possible to avoid toll roads, but ended up on one that charged me $0.25. It was a one week rental with Hertz, they charged me the max for plate pass of $25. Another time I knew I was going to cross the Golden Gate. They allow to input the tag number and pay for the toll even after the fact, but the National had already registered the tag and that wouldn’t allow you to pay it via tag. I carry my e-z pass with me, but a lot states don’t use it and sometimes holding it up doesn’t register and I still get dinged!

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      That is wholly unfair, Bill.

      I hope that things change soon where the system becomes more equitable for all involved. If there has to be electronic tolls, at least keep the costs reasonable. Your experiences were not reasonable by any stretch of the imagination.

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