Saturday, April 14, 2012

For whom the road tolls...a public service announcement

Several weeks after returning from a week of presentations in the Seattle area, I received a bill from PlatePass, a “service” from Hertz, the car rental company I used.

The total: $19.05.

The charge: using a “cashless toll road” a single time.

(By “cashless” they mean there is no option to stop and pay while on the road itself.)

In trying to sort this out, I called PlatePlass, then Hertz. Regarding the latter, the wait time for a human being (around 20 minutes) was absurd for a company of its size. The difficulty in reaching a human being who could actually take action rather than read from a manual was also absurd.

The toll charge was $4.30. The remaining amount was the administrative fee—$2.95 per day for each day of the rental, regardless of whether or not you used any cashless toll roads each day. As I said, I apparently drove on one only once.

One person at Hertz told me that PlatePass is a division of Hertz; another said that’s not the case. One person at Hertz told me that Hertz is the only car rental company that uses PlatePass; another said that’s not the case. All were definitive in their tone.

In any case, the situation was annoying and, I’d say, deceptive.

I prepaid the car rental. At the pickup counter, the Hertz staffer devoted the usual two minutes in trying to sell me insurance, gas refill, and GPS, but did not bother to mention PlatePass. So I did not agree to it. I did not even know it existed.

What if Hertz had told me about PlatePass up front? If I’d refused it and traveled a cashless toll road, I would have been hit with a much higher charge. But otherwise, at least I would then have known that cashless toll roads were in the vicinity and I could’ve planned my routes accordingly.

I’m from the Northeast. I have E-ZPass and I take my tag whenever traveling to an area that accepts it. But I’ve been all over the country and have never encountered a toll road with no toll booth of any kind.

It’s an efficient idea—as long as you know about it in advance.

So let this be a warning. I’m told that, as of this writing, five states use PlatePlass:

  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • North Carolina
  • Texas
  • Washington 

When renting a car in any of those states, ask at the rental car counter where the cashless toll roads are.

Upon reading accounts like this, in which Hertz refunded hoodwinked and exploited customers the per-day charge for every day but the days they actually used a cashless toll road, I am astounded that Hertz still has not adjusted their regimen. If they’d simply explain PlatePass at the time of rental, so many fewer customers would be disgruntled—and so many fewer Hertz employees would have to deal with the aftermath of a manipulative “service.”


Steven Marsh said...

Yep. I got caught by them in pretty much identical circumstances to you... only mine was Avis. (Their system is called "eToll.") Mine was a $17.50 "service fee" for $2.61 in tolls. I actually apparently used tolls twice within the span of six minutes... putting the per-minute charge at more than $3/minute.

Unfortunately, on the road we got on, there was no indication that it was a "toll road with no way to give money." It's all really, really scummy, and I'm not quite sure how I'll handle it the next time I need to rent a car. (I think they put the outrageous fees at juuuuust the highest they can such that it's not worth the time/effort to fight it vigorously.)

Ryan B said...

Same issue here! $33 of which the $2.95 per day admin fee. Never was told a thing about platepass and never saw the device in the car. This was from the JFK airport in New York. Beaware! Sucks because I paid all the tolls with cash as well.