Tourism & Cruises

Florida settles with 3 rental car companies over electronic toll complaints

Electronic tolling may not appear to cost much but some rental care companies tack on big fees to unwary customers.
Electronic tolling may not appear to cost much but some rental care companies tack on big fees to unwary customers. jvanbeekum@miamiherald.com

Attorney General Pam Bondi on Tuesday announced an out-of-court settlement with three major rental car companies that were targets by consumers being charged excessive fees at “cashless” toll booths in Florida.

Bondi said Avis, which also owns Budget and Payless rental car companies, have agreed to “clearly and conspicuously” disclose that it charges $3.95 a day to customers who rent their cars and who encounter toll booths that allow only electronic payments. An announcement from Bondi’s office said the three companies also must disclose the fee on their web sites, in online reservation paths and at the rental car counter. They must also tell consumers how to avoid it.

For years, rental car companies have charged fees to their customers who rent cars and drive on toll roads but who can’t or don’t pay tolls because they only accept electronic payments, such as with a transponder on a car’s windshield. The complaints have escalated as the state has increased the number of all-electronic toll roads, undermining Florida’s image as a tourist-friendly destination.

Bondi said that since her office began its investigation, Avis, Budget and Payless have provided more than $1 million in refunds to customers. The settlement requires the three companies provide refunds to any customers who are charged for e-toll fees without sufficient disclosures and who have not already been reimbursed and who seek a refund.

The announcement from Bondi’s office made no mention of other rental car firms that charge similar or higher fees — most notably Dollar Thrifty, which imposes a $15 administrative fee on consumers every time they don’t pay a cashless toll, up to $90 a day, according to attorneys for consumers who have filed a class-action suit in U.S. District Court in Miami.

A motion to dismiss the case, filed by Dollar Thrifty, has been pending before U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez for nearly two years with no action being taken. Martinez’s office said Tuesday it does not discuss the status of pending cases with the media, only with attorneys for parties in the case, which was filed by Marshall Maor, an unhappy Dollar Thrifty customer from New York.

The state has been inundated with complaints from consumers, and other states have taken the rental car industry to court to extract concessions on behalf of consumers.

Kevin Carroll, a real estate agent in Columbia, Md., said he was recently caught by the fee “scam” after flying to Miami International Airport and renting a car to drive to Pompano Beach. “I estimate I incurred close to $100 [in fees] based on the $15 per toll charge, mostly on the trip up from MIA. I am planning to call customer service and complain,” Carroll told the Herald/Times. “I chose Thrifty through Expedia because of the best add-on rate. Now I see why they are the lowest.”

To be eligible for a refund, consumers must have been wrongfully charged for e-tolls by Avis, Budget or Payless from Jan. 1, 2010 through Monday, July 10. All claims must be filed by Jan. 7, 2018. To file a claim, go the Florida Attorney General website, myfloridalegal.com, and fill out an online form. Refund checks will be mailed in March 2018.

Contact Steve Bousquet at sbousquet@tampabay.com. Follow @stevebousquet.

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