Thursday, December 06, 2007

"Fees companies charge to collect tolls are so high that a few trips through changeless tollbooths can cost more than the price of renting the car."

Rental-Car Customers Criticize Extra Fees For Changeless Tolls

December 6, 2007

Channel 5 NBC (Dallas/Fort Worth)
Copyright 2007

DALLAS -- Some rental-car companies charge customers extra fees when they drive through the new changeless tollbooths Highway 121 and the Dallas North Tollway.

The fees some companies are charging to collect the tolls are so high, that a few trips through one of the changeless tollbooths can cost more than the price of renting the car.

Adriana Martinez-Holtz rented a car in Dallas last summer when she was in town for a friend's birthday party.

She made three trips down the Dallas North Tollway, passing through the changeless toll plaza at Wycliff Avenue. There is no place to deposit money at the toll. Cameras take pictures of license plates, and the tollway authority mails a bill to the car owner.

The bill goes to the rental-car company if drivers pass through.

When Martinez-Holtz returned home to San Antonio, she received a bill in the mail from a collection agency hired by Advantage Rent-A-Car.

Advantage wanted payment for three 75-cent tolls, plus a $25 late-payment penalty from the tollway authority and a $40 service charge for each time she passed through a tollbooth.

Her total bill was $197.25

"As a matter of fact, it was more than the cost of the rental at this point," she said.

Jerry Martin and his girlfriend said they rented from Advantage and drove on the new 121 tollway, which also uses the changeless toll system.

They received a bill from Advantage for $41 for driving through just one tollbooth.

"Even an extra $5, I don't have a problem with," Martin said. "I have a problem with $40."

Martin said he couldn't believe a rental car company would charge so much to collect $1.60 toll.

"They need to do something to educate people, because I think right now they're just lining their pockets with 40 bucks every time someone goes through one," he said.

Advantage said it is not making money on the $40 service fee. The company said it costs money to track down customers and collect.

Advantage has posted signs at rental counters warning customers they're responsible for paying all toll-road violations. The rental agreement customers sign also says the company can charge up to $100 per toll.

Martin and Martinez-Holtz said they didn't notice the signs or the warning on the rental agreement. And they argued customers shouldn't be penalized for not paying at tollbooths that give drivers no way to pay cash on the spot.

"You're on the road," Martin said. "You have no option whatsoever once you've done it."

Advantage said tollway operators caused the problems by installing the cashless toll booths.

"With the addition of over 70 new toll roads in Texas in the next several years, all without tollbooths, there is a real fear that the problem will be exacerbated," an Advantage spokesman said. "Renters need to be aware of where they are driving and watch for toll roads, and pay for their toll charges immediately."

The Dollar/Thrifty rental-car group also charges customers a $25 toll collection fee.

"It is unfortunate that the highway authorities have taken away the cash option on these toll ways," Dollar said. "It also puts car rental companies in the position of becoming the state's toll collectors."

The tollway operators said the changeless system is better because it keeps traffic moving.

The Texas Department of Transportation and the North Texas Tollway Authority said they are working with rental-car companies to improve the system.

The tollway operators will even bill drivers directly if rental car companies turn over the name of the renter, they said.

"We want to work with them," Sam Lopez of NTTA said. "We want to get agreements signed. In the long run, it's going to be in the best interests for them, for us and, most importantly, it'll be good news for rental car customers."

Drivers who've been hit with extra charges said they want others to beware.

"People from out of state need to be warned it's not too cheap too drive in Texas," Martin said.

There are two ways to avoid collection fees. Some companies allow customers to rent a toll tag along with the car, giving drivers an electronic way to pay the toll immediately when they pass through. Drivers can also contact the tollway authority after passing through a changeless tollbooth to arrange to pay the toll directly.

© 2007

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