“A $32 Golden Gate Bridge Fee?” by Catharine Hamm (Need to Know, Feb. 24) struck a nerve.
I had a similar experience last year in Boston, to which I travel monthly for business. My first time there, I rented a vehicle at Logan airport and declined the toll program, resolving to simply use GPS to avoid any tolls coming out of the airport. Whoops, it's impossible. For the one or two tolls (all electronic) I hit in the tunnels coming out and back in, I was charged outrageous rental company administrative fees for each "violation."
Unlike here in California (and in the Golden Gate case), the Massachusetts Department of Transportation does not offer a means to pay electronically after the fact (at least for renters). I tried to register the license plate for my trip, but I was not allowed to because the plate was already registered with the rental company. I contacted the firm that processes the tolls for the rental car company several times, but was unable to intercept/pay the tolls before it got to them.
After phone calls and letters to the rental company and the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office, I was contacted by the Boston Mayor's Office, which negotiated a satisfactory resolution on my behalf.
Not many visitors or tourists will be as dogged, nor should they have to be. In the long time I spent contemplating this situation, I realized it's a scam, at least in areas like Logan, where it's really quite impossible (as far as I know) to avoid tolls. Not only that, but if you can't avoid them, you also can't pay for them.
Your only choice is to pay for the rental company's toll program, all of which seem to, as the article cited, charge a daily rate once one toll fee is triggered, and regardless of further toll usage.
On a long trip during which one's only toll usage is at one unavoidable node, these toll programs are extremely disadvantageous. The only other option I found is to register a new EZ Pass account, but that requires feeding it cash and bleeding account fees, most likely. Oh, and awareness and planning. Too much work for an occasional visitor.
The scheme I encountered is extremely unfriendly to visitors but surely quite lucrative for the rental companies. In my view, it's mostly mitigated by offering anyone the ability to pay after the fact for any toll fees, as we thankfully can do in California, although it doesn't fully address the fact that many are unaware even of that option, or of the rental companies' toll program details.
This article is a nice start in raising awareness, but I'd love to know if others have had similar experiences in other areas. I believe that transportation departments are at least as responsible as the rental car companies, and they need to hear from us. They need to make it easier for non-account holders to pay tolls.
After that experience, I happily rent Turo cars (at half the price) and reimburse the car owner exactly what's due when he/she receives the bill.
Editor’s note: If you have had a toll experience like the one above, please email email@example.com and tell us about your experience.
In regards to “A Digital Eye on Your Rental” (On the Spot. March 3, by Catharine Hamm): Another alternative to car rental is Lyft or Uber. No worries about the amount of gas in the rental car.