NMA Email Newsletter: Issue #103

Car Rentals, PlatePass, and Electronic Tolling

NMA Member Bob Morrow shared the following important information with us that he observed while recently renting a car. Even if you are one of the few people who analyze the fine print on contracts, keep reading if you want to learn how to avoid unnecessary automatic charges to your credit card when dealing with rental car agencies.

From Bob:

Recently, I rented a car — a Toyota from Hertz — that had a plastic box attached to the windshield. It was a “PlatePass” automated toll payment box, which contained one each EZ-Pass and I-Pass electronic toll tag. (Other systems’ tags are provided in other parts of the country.) If you want to use PlatePass, just pull the appropriate “Pass” device out and set it face up on the dashboard of the rental vehicle. Keeping a tag in the box will mean you won’t get charged when you go through an e-toll lane because the box blocks the signal.

On the tags box, it says, “If you choose to use PlatePass to pay a toll, PlatePass LLC will charge your credit card the service fee disclosed on your rental record plus incurred toll charges at the cash rate. Customers paying cash for their rental will be invoiced for their tolls and fees.” (The bolding is by PlatePass.)

What this means is that you’ll pay not only the cash rate for the electronic toll — e-tolls are typically cheaper than paying cash — but you also get the pleasure of paying whatever service fee your car rental company charges. In other words, PlatePass is charged at the e-toll rate, but they charge you the cash rate and add a service fee on top of that.

At www.platepass.com, you’ll find that they call their service a “nationwide image tolling network.” I must note that you can see toll receipts on that website, but you can’t see them until after the rental car is returned! PlatePass fees are charged to the same credit card you rented the car with, so you incur the costs before you know what they are.

If this scam sounds familiar, it should. Who runs PlatePass? American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the same company that operates red-light cameras and photo radar systems around the country.

The data mining potential here is huge. If you have a rental car, use a PlatePass provided tag, and get a red-light or speed camera ticket while using the same credit card to pay for both, you have just given ATS all kinds of information about you. Do you trust them with your data?

This is another reason to “just say no” to plans for adding tolling to roads that are currently free.

Bob sent us this addendum just a few days later:

Today, I got a bill in the mail from Hertz. While it doesn’t show PlatePass explicitly, I can’t say for sure if I was billed for the service even though I didn’t use it. I don’t think I was billed though. The bill includes a loss damage waiver ($9) which I agreed to, but it also includes two charges I didn’t agree to and am stuck with: Fuel & Service ($20) — even though the car was returned with a full gas tank and a clean interior — and Concession Fee Recovery ($22). So the Rochester (MN) airport charges Hertz a fee to be located at the airport and Hertz passes it along to me, probably tacking on another service fee in the process. On top of all of that, there is the 14.75 percent tax.

Considering that Rochester is the home of the Mayo Clinic, someone is making big money there from all of the rental car activity and buried fees. Travelers do get screwed.

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