Hertz Sued by San Francisco Over Fees For Electronic Tolls
Since the introduction of electronic tolls some years ago to highways, bridges and tunnels around the world, the authorities in charge of them have been touting their convenience where you do not have to stop to pay the toll. Just install a transponder in your vehicle and your experience will be smooth sailing…
…but over those years, rental car companies seemed to have created a cottage industry pertaining to profiting from electronic tolls — including but not limited to charging exorbitant fees for the use of a transponder and for the administration of any claims of unpaid tolls incurred during the use of the rental vehicle.
One local government finally decided to do something about it with regard to the Golden Gate Bridge, which is one of the most famous spans in the world — so much so that it is one of the top ten tourist destinations in the United States over which visitors feel compelled to drive, as approximately 40 million vehicles cross the bridge every year.
Hertz Sued by San Francisco Over Fees For Electronic Tolls
On Wednesday, March 1, 2017, Dennis Herrera — who is the City Attorney for San Francisco — accused business partners Hertz Corporation and its business partner of “fraudulently and deceptively inducing its customers who drive across San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge to purchase an ‘optional’ toll service called PlatePass”, according to this article from the official Internet web site for the office of the City Attorney of San Francisco.
A lawsuit known as the People of the State of California v. The Hertz Corporation et al., San Francisco Superior Court case no. CGC-17-557336 was filed by Herrera in San Francisco Superior Court against Hertz and American Traffic Solutions, Incorporated for “misleading customers and engaging in unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices by charging steep fees for a ‘toll service’ to unwitting rental car customers who cross the Golden Gate Bridge.” The lawsuit seeks a court order to halt these deceptive practices; restitution — with interest — to victims; and civil penalties of up to $2,500.00 against each defendant for each unlawful act.
“On other California toll bridges, PlatePass is an optional service that permits Hertz customers to bypass cash toll lanes and use the faster electronic FasTrak lanes without having to establish a FasTrak account”, according to Herrera. “But on the Golden Gate Bridge, ever since it went cashless four years ago, Hertz customers neither choose the service, nor receive sufficient notice to avoid it. They neither receive its supposed benefits, nor consent to its charges. Instead, by simply driving over the Golden Gate Bridge a single time, as millions of tourists do each year, Hertz customers are charged not only the undiscounted toll rate of $7.50, but up to $24.75 in extra fees. For many customers, that means a $32.25 bill to cross the bridge one time — more than four times the toll rate.”
A Problem For Years
I first reported in this article back on Sunday, May 12, 2013 that FlyerTalk member milohoss was charged $25.80 by Hertz for driving a rental car across the Golden Gate Bridge — which at that time normally charged a toll of six dollars — shortly after the iconic toll bridge became “cashless” in March of 2013. Furious about this charge for not signing up for the PlatePass system, milohoss strongly considered filing a class action lawsuit to “ban these toll scams on bridges or tunnels where you do not have any other options.”
Over the past four years, Hertz has not charged and disclosed the aforementioned fees on the receipts provided to customers upon the conclusion of the vehicle rental. Rather, the rental car company provided its confidential personal credit card information of the customer to a third party, from which the charge is slipped in at a later date. Tens of thousands of customers of Hertz have unwittingly paid millions of dollars in PlatePass fees for the simple act of crossing the bridge.
“These practices are not only unfair; they’re unlawful,” Herrera said. “Rather than Hertz putting you in the driver’s seat, they’re taking their customers to the cleaners. I am not going sit back and allow one of the largest rental car companies on the planet to take advantage of a world-renowned San Francisco icon to rip off thousands of California visitors and residents. This lawsuit is designed to put a stop to this illegal scheme and force the companies involved to pay their victims back.”
A check at the official Internet web site for Hertz indicates that “Hertz customers will pay a service fee of $4.95 per rental day, including any days when customers do not use PlatePass, plus the Toll Authority’s posted cash toll rate or the highest undiscounted toll rate for any incurred tolls. The maximum service charge (excluding tolls) is $24.75 per month. After the rental car is returned, your credit card will be charged separately for the posted cash toll rate for the tolls used (as opposed to any discounted electronic toll rate) and the applicable service fee. Charges will appear on your credit card by PlatePass. You will receive an itemized listing of all tolls and charges by mail.”
Furthermore — according to Hertz — if you want a receipt of the tolls which I have paid electronically, you have to access the official Internet web site of PlatePass?
Hertz Corporation — one of the three major rental car conglomerates based in the United States — operates the Hertz, Dollar, Thrifty and Firefly car rental brands.
If you check the official Internet web site of PlatePass — you will see a list of electronic toll facilities currently in use in 22 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Toll facilities which are marked with an asterisk do not accept cash as payment for tolls.
Methods of Payment of Electronic Tolls on the Golden Gate Bridge
The official Internet web site of the Golden Gate Bridge indicates that “All-Electronic Tolling makes it easy to cross the Golden Gate — no more stopping, no fumbling for change. A variety of payment options gives you freedom of choice and helps speed your travel.” Further information and advice for drivers of rental vehicles who want to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge is available here.
As the Golden Gate Bridge is the only roadway between San Francisco and the northern counties of California, the few alternatives available mean significantly more time and miles to avoid the electronic toll. It is also the only bridge in California which does not collect tolls in cash on site. Instead, motorists must drive through and pay their tolls via FasTrak or one of several payment methods when using the Golden Gate Bridge:
- FasTrak — Although there seems to be no outright fee to purchase a FasTrak toll tag, you do have to pay $25.00, which includes a $20.00 refundable deposit and five dollars in pre-paid tolls. Despite paying discounted tolls with this system, either the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District or PlatePass gets to keep your money in advance interest-free until you pay your tolls.
- Pay-By-Plate — There are three options available:
- License Plate Account — Register your license plate to pay as you go and forgo the discounted benefits offered by FasTrak. There is no pre-paid balance and no extra fees.
- One-Time Payment — This is the option which should have been considered by milohoss where drivers who infrequently cross the Golden Gate Bridge may pay their toll one payment at a time and want to pay using cash. There are no extra fees for this service, but you must either find a location where you can pay in cash, or use a credit card to pay your toll up to 30 days in advance or within 48 hours after you drive across the bridge.
- Toll Invoice — This is an option available without any additional charge by Hertz. However, the invoice for the toll is generated and mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle, which would be Hertz — ergo, the aforementioned $25.80 fee.
Okay, so let me get this straight — I need to pay a minimum of $4.95 per rental day just for the privilege of paying an electronic toll — and then I have to first hunt down for the receipt for the tolls which I have paid?
I would rather stop and fumble for change. That is why they built those little convenience coin holders in many cars: to sort your coins for tolls and other coin-operated devices such as parking meters. I always sorted out my coins before driving the car. I pull up to the toll booth, pay my toll and ask for a receipt, which I usually receive immediately before continuing on my trip. To me, that was easy and quick; it did not cost me any extra; and I had my receipt in hand.
I get the arguments that electronic tolls can be beneficial: no slowing down or stopping, no idling engines which can pollute the environment, and possibly less expensive tolls. To me, I have always felt that electronic tolls are a potentially nefarious way to render drivers to be complacent about paying tolls: you do not think about how much you are paying while driving. You may gripe and grumble when it is time to pay your bill — but that is probably it.
Nevertheless, I would prefer to have a choice. Keep one manned toll booth and one automatic cash toll machine lane which dispenses receipts while having all of the remaining lanes electronic. I believe that would be a compromise which keeps the options available to all. I personally would use the automatic cash toll machine lane which dispenses receipts.
If electronic tolls are indeed the future — or, ever increasingly, the present — then rental car companies should not charge exorbitant fees to its customers for the use of their transponders.
I never liked the concept of tolls. I do understand that they can help pay expenses for maintenance and repairs of bridges, tunnels and highways — but I am against them if tolls are a form of double taxation where taxes are already paid by taxpayers for those bridges, tunnels and highways. Although there is the argument that drivers from outside the jurisdiction of the bridge, tunnel or highway should pay to use them rather than the local resident who may not use them at all, I would prefer that tolls were eliminated altogether. Then again, the money has to come from somewhere to build, repair and maintain bridges, tunnels and highways.
The problem is that there is currently no standard in the rental car industry pertaining to electronic tolls — meaning that different rental car companies have different processes for opting in or out of toll services. Additional fees are charged by many rental car companies when customers accrue tolls by driving through electronic toll collection lanes on a bridge or toll road or in express lanes. Daily fees are assessed by some companies; while at least one company charges a flat fee for unlimited tolls. Tolls may be charged by rental car companies even on days when bridges are not crossed by the customer; and others charge only on days the toll pass is used.
Hopefully, the policies practiced by Hertz — supposedly the most egregious in terms of both misinformation and gouging customers, according to an investigation by the City Attorney of San Francisco — will stop; and that the lawsuit sends a clear message which other rental car companies will heed.
Source: City Attorney of San Francisco.