Toll roads, rental cars, and billing

A recent story on USA Today asked if car rental companies are profiting from toll roads.  The story didn’t convince me one way or the other, but it12-17-14-3 sure reminded me of my own frustrations with toll road billing.  For the most part I’m usually satisfied with the results when I use a toll road.  Although I would certainly prefer toll-free roads, being able to avoid traffic and lights, plus arrive at my destination faster often offset the cost.  That is, until I get the bill.

Not too long ago I took a trip (in my own car) and decided that the toll was the way to go.  It worked out great.  I arrived much faster than I would have had I taken the interstate.  The toll road offered a “bill me later” lane so that’s what I opted for.  A couple of months go by and I get my bill in the mail—with a late fee attached.  It’s not like I missed something—it was the first bill.  I called the toll company and they said they sent the original bill a few weeks prior (which they hadn’t).  I then had to haggle to get the late fee removed. A month later the same exact thing happened!

Last year I received a bill in the mail for a toll that I took in Dallas, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember driving on that road—or even being in Dallas.  Then I looked more closely at the bill and noticed the date listed was almost a year prior to the bill date.  There was no late fee, but I was shocked that it took an entire year to bill me.  It was a nightmare trying to get reimbursed for that from my company.  Then, the same thing happened again this year.  Wonder if they would be ok with me paying them in one year?  My guess is no.

It often happens that I will get charged on my credit card from rental car companies for tolls out of nowhere and have to jump through way too many hoops to get a receipt from them. Typically these are for trips taken a couple of months prior, with the expense reports already turned in and reimbursed. Huge pain, that’s for sure.

Finally, in a non-billing-related mishap, on a trip to New York City my rental car toll pass tag wouldn’t work.  This was lovely because I was stuck with a wooden barrier blocking the way in front of me and a row of cars honking behind me with no way out.  Because everything is electronic no person was there to help.  Luckily after a few minutes a cop saw what was happening and came to help me.  Boy was that stressful.

I wish I could say over time the toll process will get better, but I have no reason to believe that based on my experiences.  Maybe the transition to electronic billing has not been an easy transition for toll companies which is causing this mess.  I just wish there was a more centralized process for dealing with all these tolls, but until that happens I guess I’ll set my billing expectations pretty low.

Readers, what kinds of toll mishaps have you had, billing or otherwise?

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Comments

  1. Fortunately this didn’t happen to me, but a colleague. We just started a new gig in Orange County CA. The most efficient way to the office from hotel was a couple of exits down on the tollway – both were right off of the toll road. The rental company didn’t provide a toll tag and it is a cashless road (and no “bill me later” option like Austin has). Apparently there is a HUGE penalty for blowing through the electronic toll bridges without a toll pass (something obnoxious like $25 per occurrence). She was hit with a staggering $600 credit card transaction for the first couple of weeks before she realized the problem (2 tolls each direction per day). From then on we all took the far less convenient route on surface streets, increasing the one way commute by at least 25 minutes (on a good day, which were few in OC!). The company was so understanding and generously reimbursed her for the charges. They then incorporated tips for all new visitors to that office in the pre-arrival orientation’s driving directions.

    Personally I haven’t had any issues with National billing my tolls when I am in Austin. That’s the only scenario I can somewhat trust.

  2. Normally rental cars have toll passes built in, but on a recent trip in the US (I’m based in Canada), I somehow ended up on a toll road without a toll pass – failure to accurately follow directions avoiding a toll was my fault entirely. I’m in the US enough that I always have USD cash, but the machine required exact change. So I’m digging through my purse, sorting out US coins from Canadian (yes, the machines can tell the difference), and…I dropped my wallet on the floor of the car, at night, with cars starting to line up behind me. I scraped up all my change but was still somehow 10 cents short, so I continued digging around under the seat with cars honking. Eventually the person behind me walked up to my car and gave me the dime. I was mortified and next time will just blow through the toll pass lane and work out the fine later.

  3. I live in northern Ohio. If you want to travel east or west on a interstate highway you are stuck paying tolls. I have an ezpass transponder in my car. By using that I pay less tolls than a person that pays cash.

    However, I hate driving the Ohio turnpike. So I tend to take back roads when I drive from Toledo to Cleveland.
    It adds twenty minutes to my drive time but saves me $3.75 in tolls. It would be $5.50 if I paid cash.

  4. If you are taking took roads frequently I highly recommend getting an EZ Pass. I used to travel with my personal service so I wouldn’t have to deal with cash (since the extra rental car fees were not reimbursable). EZ Pass offers an online electronic itemized statement and most tools are recorded in a couple days so it also made my expense report easier to manage.

  5. The problem with EZ pass is that it doesn’t work in all locations. In California they use FastTrak and it is a different transponder. I would love some standardization of transponders so I could just pack it in my bag and take it on my trip.
    I don’t use the rental car transponders because they charge you on a daily basis even if you don’t use the transponder that day. So if you use the transponder on day 1 and then don’t use it until day 6 you’ll be charged for all of the days (6 days).
    I have found that some toll roads let you pay by credit card after the fact, but you need to remember the location and time of the toll crossing. You then go to the toll website, enter your license number, time, and location, and pay your toll. I did that with the Chicago toll road and had no problems.

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