Rental car companies investigated over toll fees

Posted at 11:36 PM, Feb 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-20 19:38:09-05

Take a drive on Florida's toll road. It's not how far you go that determines what you pay. We found it may be the car you drive.

"I was mad going on vacation with my wife," explained Steve Pasek.

For Pasek, the memories of his Florida vacation are as fresh as the snow back in Ohio. He declined the rental car company's toll service.

With the rental car company's automated billing services, you are billed weeks after you return the car. A third party company is used to send you the bill.

While Pasek declined the service expecting to save money, he still got a bill.

"Before you know it I got stuck and had to go on freeways," explained Pasek.

Stuck on a freeway where cash lanes are often replaced by fast lanes where an electronic bill is created for your toll that's paid later.

"When I got back I got a bill for well over $100 in fees," Pasek said. "I was kind of shocked."

Sticker shock. The Attorney General said 152 drivers complained last year. They've been investigating since 2010. Drivers want the Attorney General to put the brakes on what some are calling "highway robbery."

"I don't think they have to gouge you," explained Marvin Wapnitsky of Lake Worth.

With some programs you're charged every day you rent the car even if your wheels never hit the turnpike.

"Don't charge me for what I'm not using," explained Wapnitsky. "My toll was $4 and I couldn't see paying another $24.75."

Drivers like Vincent Keane from Washington, D.C. are surprised to hear that they'll be charged each day.

"Not based on how many tolls you go through?" Keane asked. "I never heard of that and it doesn't make sense. I don't know why I'd want to pay an administrative fee. I'll certainly ask them."

We watched as Keane rented his Enterprise car. The clerk showed him a flyer.

"Through a new practice it's $2," Keane said reading the flyer.

A new practice? $2? That daily rate is years old. Two bucks is now $3.95.

"I wouldn't have known," Keane said.

"Did she tell you about the fees?" Strathman asked.

"No I had to ask," Keane said.

Enterprise Holdings which operates Alamo Rent A Car, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and National Brands said it has been proactively trying to bring attention to this issue and transparency.

In 2009 and 2010, the Florida Attorney General told companies to disclose these fees. They're in some contracts, also in flyers, and on the SunPass website. It's still catching drivers off guard.

"Just be truthful with the system with the way it's set up," explained John Lorincz.

Rental car companies say it's set up as a convenience to you, and their fees cover the significant cost of the program.

"I don't think they are interested in how much it's going to cost you. They are more interested in making a profit," explained Lorincz.

Lorincz was penalized for saying no to Dollar's toll service, and then accidentally hitting a toll road.

"The toll was 40 cents. The bill had an additional $15 handling fee on it," explained Lorincz.

Thrifty charges the same $15 penalty. It's not just once. It's every time you hit a toll up to a $105 maximum fee, if you decline the service and still use it.

"Then I got a bill for another bill for 40 cents," Lorincz said. "And another $15 administration fee to process that one."

A Hertz Corporation spokesperson, which operates the Dollar and Thrifty brands, said, "Customers are clearly notified of the potential of the $15 admin fee when they decline."

Hertz Corporation said the terms are in the rental agreement and related materials at the rental counter.

An 80-cent toll turned into $30.80 for Lorincz. A costly mistake he won't make again..

"If you're going to Florida look into buying a SunPass," Lorincz said.

While Florida is taking the heat, it's a nationwide problem. If you get a SunPass or EZPass, whatever pass you need in the state you are traveling, you need to add the rental car's make and model along with the license plate to your account before you hit the road. Make sure you include start and stop dates for billing to that rental car.

"We think it is important for customers to understand the toll situation on roads they plan to travel," said Beth Davis on behalf of The Hertz Corporation.

Florida Turnpike Enterprise officials have met with the rental car industry. The Turnpike says it doesn't have the authority to do anything.

"Our concern is the customer's overall experience when visiting Florida. We assist customers that have rental car issues through our SunPass Customer Service Center," spokesperson Chad Huff wrote in a statement.

One lawmaker tried to limit these fees this session,  but that's already been removed from the bill. The bill now just requires disclosure.


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