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Readers share their rental car toll-road experiences, all but one unhappy

Readers share their rental car toll-road experiences, all but one unhappy
Electronic fee assessment leads to frustration, action and, in one case, a clever detour. (Jason Ford / For The Times)

An article in the Feb. 24 Need to Know column (“A $32 Golden Gate Bridge fee?” by Catharine Hamm) described a settlement by the San Francisco city attorney’s office with Hertz, which charged drivers extra fees for using a rental car’s transponder, called Plate Pass, for tolls and also charged the renter for each day of the rental, even if that driver did not drive on toll roads any day.

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge raised the issue because it no longer accepts cash payments. The $3.65-million settlement will be used for “future enforcement,” the city attorney’s office said.

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The article prompted reader Roland Foss to recount his experience leaving Boston’s Logan International Airport in a rental car. He wondered whether readers had experienced the same thing, so we asked. Here are some of their responses:

E-Z Pass solution

[Foss] is totally right-on about what a ripoff the E-Z Pass toll fee rental is, or the outrageous surcharge for going through an E-Z Pass booth without the transponder that is charged by car rental companies.

The solution — and I am surprised E-Z Pass does not offer this — is to have transponders that travelers could use on any car when they are on E-Z Pass Toll Roads. I was told one obstacle is that the transponder and car must be registered, but certainly there must be technology that would allow for transponders to be used in various cars.

It certainly seems like an easy revenue stream for E-Z Pass to exploit. I’d definitely get one.

—Bob Heiber

Calabasas

Over the river and overcharged

We had a toll bridge experience similar to what was described.

We had a Hertz rental and were driving through Louisville on an interstate highway when suddenly there was a sign that said "entering toll crossing," or something vague like that. What's galling is there was no notice, no alternative offered the stranger, no place to exit after the sign, no place to pay a toll, not even a sign stating how much a toll was. Nothing. We thought maybe the sign was an old one and there was no longer a toll. We had run into that situation before.

After returning home we discovered a nearly $30 extra credit-card charge from Hertz. My wife called to ask what it was and was told it was a toll charge. For that single brief toll crossing. Long story short, Hertz agreed to cut the charge in half, still a ridiculous charge for driving across the Ohio River.

I’m glad they got slapped for this practice.

—R. Schmidt

San Luis Obispo

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Dodging a toll

I smiled as I read the letter about the car rental and the tolls in Boston. During a trip to the East Coast in 2015, a friend and I drove into Boston from New Hampshire. Headed to our hotel, the GPS wanted us to go over the bridge which, as Foss writes, are all electronic tolls.

We managed to get out of the flow of traffic leading to the bridge and onto the nearby streets. GPS kept directing us to go over the bridge (which would have been the fastest, most direct way).

Noticing a policeman on the sidewalk, we stopped and asked if he would give us an alternative route. He told us to just drive over the bridge and we would be billed for the toll. I explained that we were driving a rental and asked wouldn’t this bill be a ticket? He just shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

After reading Mr. Foss’ letter, I’m so glad we managed to find our way through the streets to our hotel without having to go through any electronic toll roads or bridges!

—Christina Flores

Los Angeles

Sharing the pain

I feel Foss’ pain. I experienced the same problem in the Denver area in 2010. I turned down the toll payment option and carefully drove around the area on what I thought were regular surface streets.

Shortly after I returned, I received a bill for a fine for taking a toll road without paying. I did not believe I had done so, but the rental company provided me with a dated photo of the car and license plate taken by a highway camera (or so they said). The date and license plate number were the same as the date and car license plate I had rented.

Unlike Foss, I did not pursue it and paid the fine. I have traveled a great deal and try to do my research about an array of potential concerns, but this one never occurred to me. I try to look at disappointments and problems as learning experiences and move on.

—C. Spence

Los Angeles

Running afoul in Florida

Several years ago, I rented a car in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. I knew I would encounter a lot of tolls driving to the Florida Keys and back, so I asked about an E-Z Pass transponder when I rented the car. The agent told me to just drive through them and pay for the tolls when the agency received a bill from the state.

He was wrong. The state charged a $20 fee for each toll that I went through, which amounted to around $200. I got the company to take off the toll fees, but they wouldn’t take off the state charges, saying that the agreement clearly said the driver was responsible for any tolls or fines.

Since then I have thought about getting my own transponder and account, but never have because not all states use the same system. I’m just more careful to watch for toll roads, or pay the extra fee the rental car companies charge.

—John Sanchez

Bend, Ore.

The toll of tolls

I rented a car from Hertz at Logan airport in June 2017 and thought I disabled the toll transponder because I planned to pay tolls in cash as they happened.

I went north to Maine and south to Nantucket, Mass., and returned to Logan, paying tolls at every toll gate that allowed cash payments. Later I received a bill for tolls and the transponder fee. I had passed through toll collection points that I had not realized were toll collection points. Luckily I had only to pay the tolls and the Hertz fee.

Moral of the story: If you rent a car at Logan airport, take the offered toll transponder. You can’t leave or enter the airport without paying a toll, and in Massachusetts, all toll points are transponder only.

—Erwin H. Straehley

Santa Barbara

Backing off

I had the same experience last summer in Boston. A note in the car said if we did not want to use their E-Z Pass, simply pay cash for the toll, which we did. We were still charged, plus a service fee.

When I called the customer service representative at the rental car agency (not Hertz) to refute it, they said I had to take it up with Boston's toll service directly, even though it was the company that was charging me.

I offered a compromise and it was not taken. I did something I never had in the past and didn't think would amount to anything, but I wanted to be heard, so I wrote a letter to the chief executive officer. A few weeks later I got a call from their office stating the charge had been refunded.

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—Amy Shachory

Alhambra

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