Are Electronic Tolls Taking a Toll on You?

This aerial shot of the Golden Gate Bridge was taken from a Boeing 747 aircraft operated by United Airlines arriving from Frankfurt. Photograph by FlyerTalk member SFflyer123. Click on the photograph for a trip report written by SFflyer123.

In what may seem like a conspiracy by a local authority and a rental car company, FlyerTalk member milohoss was charged $25.80 by Hertz for driving a rental car across the Golden Gate Bridge — which normally charges a six dollar toll.

Furious about this charge for not signing up for the PlatePass system, milohoss is strongly considering filing a class action lawsuit to “ban these toll scams on bridges or tunnels where you do not have any other options.”

Some FlyerTalk members chastise milohoss — who usually pays cash at toll booths and does not use express lanes — for not performing due diligence on the fact that payment of tolls on the Golden Gate Bridge are all electronic with no option to pay cash. They also say that milohoss could have used a different bridge, but milohoss argues that there really is no other option to drive to Marin from San Francisco and that a detour via another bridge would significantly add time to the drive — not to mention use more fuel.

While I am certainly not interested in considering joining in on a class-action lawsuit at this time, I tend to initially conditionally agree with milohoss.

First — if you check the official Internet web site of PlatePass — you will see a list of electronic toll facilities currently in use in 20 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Toll facilities which are marked with an asterisk no longer accept cash — and there is no asterisk next to the listing of the Golden Gate Bridge indicating that it no longer accepts cash to pay its tolls.

However, 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.”

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 I want a receipt of the tolls which I have paid electronically, I have to access the official Internet web site of PlatePass?

Okay, so let me get this straight — I need to pay $4.95 per rental day just for the privilege of paying a 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.

To be fair, there are several options to pay a toll 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. I hope those toll discounts offset the lost use of your money by paying in advance — time value of money, you know.

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 which milohoss probably would have preferred to use, but 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 $25.80 fee, which is what angered milohoss in the first place.

 

Further information and advice for drivers of rental vehicles who want to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge is available here.

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. This is the part where I agree with milohoss.

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.

What are your thoughts? Is milohoss wrong for being furious? Is Hertz charging too much for its customers to use its transponders? Should bridges, tunnels and highways offer no other options other than electronic tolls?

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Comments (Showing 8 of 8)

  • ma4jpb at 5:30am May 13, 2013

    What makes it doubly annoying around San Francisco, is the $4.95 daily charge only covers the bridges, if you want to use one of the toll roads, you have to pay in cash! So I ended up paying the convenience fee, on days I couldn’t use the convenience of paying electronically!

  • c502cid at 10:46am May 13, 2013

    The issue for business travelers is with the rental car companies. Outrageous “convenience” fees, then no real accounting. Billing comes from another source, and not all at once, just an invoice here, and there, until you aren’t even sure you were there at all!

  • bkafrick at 1:40pm May 13, 2013

    You already pay fee’s with your rental to the local authorities — 11% convention center fee, 5% concession recovery fee, etc… This is just one more fee. Get over it. This is the future, and its not going away anytime soon.

  • milohoss at 4:03pm May 13, 2013

    Hey, front page!

    Well thanks for bringing attention to this issue. I’ve actually opened up a formal complaint against PlatePass with the Better Business Bureau on this.

    That said, its true that I was ignorant as to the fees PlatePass would charge. However, I was actually under the impression that the Golden Gate Bridge would be treated differently because it’s a “no choice” situation. Obviously I was wrong. That certainly won’t happen again.

    However, a few points:

    1) It’s annoying to be required to plan in advance when crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. I would hold some responsibility with the bridge managers on this one – they should work something out with the rental car people to make this less cumbersome.

    2) Getting dinged some kind of fee for failing to pay in advance is debatable in terms of ethics, however, I really wouldn’t be complaining if it were something reasonable, like a couple bucks. But PlatePass charged me more then FOUR TIMES the bridge crossing fee. That’s totally insane – it’s quite literally highway robbery.

    Point #2 is really my main complaint and the basis of my complaint to the BBB. So what if I “had a choice”. The fact remains this is a shady, gouging business practice that should be called attention to.

    Anyway, I can’t imagine why anyone would pay $4.95 per day of a rental for the privilege of using this as a service, you’d barely save 5 minutes, not to mention the many days of a rental when you wouldn’t cross a bridge at all. But at least they are transparent about this.

    Thanks for spreading the word!

  • c502cid at 4:12pm May 13, 2013

    bka, so lets all roll over for more fees, taxes, and loss of services? Good thinking!

  • milohoss at 5:43pm May 13, 2013

    bka – at least a “convention center” fee goes to something useful. PlatePass does nothing but pad their pockets with it. Zero benefit to the consumer, society or anything else.

  • binman at 9:35am May 14, 2013

    I live in the UK and was in SFO the day after electronic tolls were introduced. I knew about this as there had been an item on the BBC news about the staff who no longer had jobs.
    On arrival I was offered the Alamo version of PlatePass which I declined as the costs over 16 days would have been exhorbitant.

    What is annoying is that till I read the article above I was not aware of Pay by Plate one time payment which is very similar to the London Congestion charge. This was certainly not made clear by Alamo in my case, who made it very clear that I would face very hefty penalties if I was charged and had not taken their system.

    Annoying also in that I avoided one of the great tourist attractions of the West Coast when all along I need not have. So thanks to Flyertalk and Brian Cohen.

  • BigFlyer at 11:24am May 14, 2013

    I live in the Bay Area; as soon as I saw the GG Bridge was going to do this I knew there would be this sort of problem.

    The GG Bridge needs a system where you can go online and pay within 5 days after crossing the bridge. Most tourists are not going to know about this in advance, but if there were signage people could pay after the fact.

    I believe that there is a post-pay system in Chicago. About 6 years ago I got onto a toll road and did not have change and was able to pay online the next day.

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