San Francisco is Suing Hertz Because the Golden Gate Bridge Has Poor Signage, Won’t Accept Cash

The San Francisco city attorney believes it’s deceptive that consumers renting cars cannot pay Golden Gate Bridge tolls with cash and therefore use a toll tracker which comes with an administrative charge when they rent cars. And since the Golden Gate Bridge doesn’t clearly inform consumers of their cheaper alternatives to pay, the failure of rental car companies to spell it out is a further deceptive practice.

The Golden Gate Bridge went cashless in 2013. That was a decision of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District which is headquartered in San Francisco. Nine of the District’s 19 board members are members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors or chosen by the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor of San Francisco.

Copyright: somchaij / 123RF Stock Photo

Residents get a FasTrak to pay the tolls. If you rent a car, you’re most likely going to use the car rental company’s device and get charged for it. Silvercar charges you only the actual fees incurred. Most rental car companies charge you a hefty administrative fee on top. Though it’s a standard industry practice only Hertz is being sued and not the larger Enterprise or AvisBudget.

Via AutoSlash San Francisco is suing Hertz over these fees even though:

  • The City of San Francisco is largely responsible for consumers having to use an electronic device to pay tolls.

  • The fee is disclosed in Hertz’s rental agreement.

  • The customer is only charged when they use the toll tracking device.

In fact the San Francisco city attorney claims it’s unfair that motorists cannot pay by cash even though the City of San Francisco-dominated board overseeing the bridge is the one that took away that option. But that’s Hertz’s fault.

Since this conversion to what’s known as all electronic tolling… [e]very lane is the same and available to everyone, with or without PlatePass or FasTrak. And Hertz customers can no longer avoid the service and its steep fees by paying their tolls via an optional cash lane — something available to motorists on every other toll bridge in the state.

Copyright: tupungato / 123RF Stock Photo

The city complains in its court filing that Hertz specify their service “is for use on ‘toll roads’, not ‘toll bridges'” and that consumers complain that they weren’t made aware of the toll (which seems to be the fault of San Francisco, or at least the signage provided by the San Francisco-dominated Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, rather than Hertz).

The major legal claim, according to AutoSlash, is that Hertz fails to inform consumers that they can pay tolls online within 48 hours of using the bridge and save themselves money. (The Golden Gate Bridge itself doesn’t clearly inform motorists of this, either.)

A driver can simply pay the toll online within 48 hours of crossing the bridge at a discount. If the toll is paid within the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District’s timeline, then PlatePass never comes into play — the vehicle owner (Hertz) isn’t notified of the outstanding toll.

San Francisco argues that since the City’s cheaper mechanism to pay tolls isn’t clear to motorists, Hertz had a duty not just to provide a convenient way to pay tolls electronically but also to inform them they could manually pay online which would be cheaper.

I lived in California for many years. I love nothing more than sitting perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean at sunset (preferably with glass of California wine in hand). But I’ve long said I wouldn’t ever become a California employer, and this is a good reminder that it’s not worth offering a brick and mortar busines to the public in the state either.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Last time I looked at the fee schedule for those toll payment devices in Hertz cars (PlatePass/FasTrak/etc.), I recall seeing that once the device is used at any time during the rental, there was a daily fee for each day of the rental, regardless of how often tolls are paid. So a single $5 toll could easily become a lot more than that on a weekly rental.

    I carry my own EZ pass for NY area and always check in advance for new locations I will be driving in as to how tolls are paid.

  2. Everyone wants to visit San Francisco. No one says they want to visit dallas. Enough said.

  3. Because it is run by progressives, it is on the top of every ranking of economic development.

    Guess where the southern hillbilly states tun by republican conservatives sit?

    ‘Nuff said.

  4. FYI, you can pay 24 hours *after* crossing the bridge, using your a card online.. You don’t need a FasTrak device.

  5. Try leaving Logan in a rent car and going practically anywhere without going through the Callahan toll tunnel and starting the daily meter on your toll device. Total scam

  6. Hertz (and other car rental services) have the same model of a predatory pricing scheme (scam?) in Florida where I make a lot of business trips – and by extension I would guess they do it everywhere they can. What a nice, legal, rip-off. When traveling I always set google maps on my iphone to avoid toll roads. For the marginal extra time it often takes to get where I’m going, it avoids a lot of unnecessary costs.

    (And when I’m renting a car, I also bring a small suction cup goose-neck mounting device to securely hold my iphone just out of my field of view for easy navigation. I used to carry a cigarette lighter to USB charger to keep the iphone juiced while navigating, but most cars have USB built in nowadays if you just look hard enough for the socket.)

  7. You blew it with your last judgment. The fact is that progressive California is the world’s fifth largest economy, surpassing most recently the entire UK. All despite progressive economic policies. San Francisco is one of the reasons for that economic performance, being the nation’s 2nd largest financial center behind New York.

    Your need for a click has outweighed your better judgment, unfortunately. You could have left this article with the fact that Sa Francisco seems to be blaming Hertz for a failure to advertise that is repeated by the city of San Francisco. This potential failure may be thrown out. This potential double standard may reflect poorly on the city. But you’ve reduced the city to this one action…neglecting to consider all the thousand things that San Francisco has gotten right.

    Get it together and suck it up. You screwed the pooch on this one. Anyone who thinks that having a business in California or San Francisco is too difficult is welcome to exit stage left…and leave the action to the big boys. Texas tried it. And Texas lost. California’s economy and San Francisco’s economy have all easily outperformed Texas and every city in Texas, despite increased regulations and increased protections for consumers. And businesses get to tap into the massive educated consumer base that knows better.

    Try again please.

  8. @credit People prefer to live in areas that have beauty and jobs (which tends to be around ports; evolution I guess). When there’s a high demand to live in these areas, the government realizes it begins to impose on its citizens. Some citizens go away, while those who remain tolerate it or even learn to embrace it. It eventually results in a polarized red/blue country afterwards.

    But you’re right, the blue portions are a nice place to visit.

  9. National only charges the administrative fee for the days tolls are charged. It’s something I get to deal with every trip to Austin on SH130.

  10. To be fair, the car rental companies do lie to get you to rent the pass. A Thrifty JFK employee told me: “You are planning to drive to New Jersey without the EZ Pass??? Do you love paying fines? There is no way out.” RRRight.

  11. ‘Nuff of the name calling and comparing of d**k sizes!

    Both SF City gov and most car rental agencies are wrong here. This left-of-center progressive thinks what SF City gov did is unfair to Hertz specifically. No gov has a monopoly on decency, doing what’s right, working in the best interests of their city, etc. And when they screw up, regardless of them being Dems, GOP, independents, unions, businesses (small or large) etc., we need to call them out on it.

    Hertz is also at fault here – along with most other car rental agencies – for lining their wallets with fees and other misc. charges that are not well spelled out. For the ninnys who think it’s in the contract and we should be aware of everything in it, go sc#$w yourself – you’re obviously a lawyer or a bean counter who thinks businesses can get away with anything by burying it in pages of legalese.

    With this said, let’s credit and call out city govs or businesses that do the right thing. Now… which car rental agencies don’t charge extra fees for using tolls? Give them a shout-out.

  12. Your old home state of California at least deserves credit for letting renters and others without the tag pay online within a couple of days. That’s still not an option for toll roads in your new home state of Texas…

  13. I got screwed by this fee renting a car in NYC from Avis. It’s ridiculous price gouging to charge the excess they do. I was aware in advance, so it wasn’t unexpected for me, but it definitely left me a bit upset at being gouged.

    The fact that San Francisco is advocating for tourists — people who aren’t their constituents, is something that I’m proud of, as a San Franciscan. We do benefit greatly from tourism, and we’re an expensive city.. and this is simply ridiculous.
    We eliminated cash tolls to decrease gov spending and reduce the traffic jams that happened at the toll plazas. These are two things every person should be able to understand and support.

    We do have clear signage indicating that you can drive through, and then go to a website or a handful of physical locations to pay your toll with no added fees. But inevitably, people miss them… anyone driving in a major urban area that is unfamiliar to them can relate to missing some signs. Just like most people (albeit, probably fewer on this blog) do not read the full details of the rental agreements — and it is absolutely NOT stated in any big text by rental companies about all the fees.

    So yeah, it’s predatory. I could even settle for a big warning sticker on the transponder box that explains the fees.

  14. It would seem that Hertz would be in compliance if it buried somewhere in the legalise of the contract that, “renters may avoid the administrative fees for highway tolls in many locations by visiting the online sites of the tolling agency shortly after passing through the toll zone”.

    Many, if not most people, regardless of how many times they’ve rented, have never read the complete contract. While the contract verbiage might serve as sufficient notice, most people would remain unaware.

  15. Perhaps you should do a story on the best way to get these devices? Some states charge a monthly fee while others do not. I got my east coast box from Massachusetts. They have the best deal. The west coast one is from California. No monthly fees from either.

    The feds passed a law mandating interoperability by the end of 2016. Obviously that hasn’t happened but it will at which point you will need only one box. But for now you need two and anyone who travels should have one of each. I can’t image why you wouldn’t. Not only is it way cheaper than paying the fee to use the one from the rental car company where you can pay cash it’s cheaper than that and no waiting in line.

    If you travel to where you will need it even once it’s worth having.

  16. Texas is far worse. Using Dollar Express, I forgot to ask for a toll device. There is a way to pay for tolls online, but the amount due never showed up on the website (we checked daily). I went through a total of six toll stops for a total of about $6. Dollar charged $96 (a $15 administrative fee per unpaid toll). There needs to be a better way to pay tolls online before they get sent to the rental car companies.

    Boston is bad in its own way, with a cash or transponder only approach to tolls. One time when I rented from BOS the car company was out of transponders, and I had forgotten to visit the ATM. I received two tickets (one for entering, one for exiting the toll road) as they do not accept cards or have a way to pay online.

    There needs to be a less predatory way to pay tolls, whether that is finally having all toll systems work with all transponders, or having a way to enter your license plate and pay the toll within a reasonable amount of time before it gets sent to the rental card company.

  17. tarniv says ” a big warning sticker on the transponder box that explains the fees.”

    ding, ding, ding- we have a winner! That would be the best for the consumer, so I assume something like that is really the ultimate goal of the City’s suit. Sure, Hertz doesn’t want to lose the juicy fees, so we have to have a little court battle about it. But I gotta also agree with tarniv- what other cities try to fight to minimize tourist’s costs? Gotta like that in a frequent traveller blog…

  18. Since many of your readers are likely to visit SF and cross the Golden Gate Bridge (southbound) and since some other BA bloggers call Northern California home, it would be a welcome service to provide step-by-step directions (with hyperlinks) to readers telling them: 1. what to say at the car rental counter, 2. how to pay their toll by credit card online either ahead of time or shortly after passing through the cashless tollgates. It can be highly disconcerting to see absolutely no signage northbound (the bridge is free going toward wine country!) and then be greeted by a series of “NO CASH” signs…and not much more…when they head back to the airport and car rental center.

  19. I understand that various governmental entities find it cheaper and more convenient to operate toll facilities without humans, which may work well for local users. It’s always an issue for people from outside, whether renting a vehicle or driving their own, since there’s no national standard. I think it is better if there is a lane available with either a human, a credit card reader, or a cash drop bucket for coins for the use of people without the pass system. Warning signs need to be erected on roads approaching toll systems to inform the public what payments are possible. Car rental companies should be able to assess exact tolls for customers rather than an extortionate daily charge. The system doesn’t work. In my state, we use automated ticket dispensers and human toll collectors who will take cash or credit card, though there is always a pass lane too.

  20. Gary, I dunno… Lately, it seems as if you include items in your posts to purposely inflame and invite clicks via comments.

    Your last paragraph is not necessary for this post, as it is largely irrelevant. Yes, California has high taxes and a lot of regulations. Some individuals and businesses find it burdensome and choose to leave. Others choose to stay. It’s a free market with freedom of choice.

    In addition, I’m not sure how much San Francisco is representative of California as a whole. Politically, much of California is liberal/progressive, but San Francisco seems to be more of an extreme.

    Having said all of that – WHAT does that have to do with the crux of the ,matter?

    Hertz, like other companies, fully discloses their ridiculous usage fees. If people would stop paying for this “service”, they would go away or be drastically reduced.

    The lawsuit seems frivolous, as, you point out, the situation has largely been brought about by the actions of politicians and bureaucrats. Yet, it’s not as if all governments and agencies run by moderates and conservatives are immune to such nonsense.

  21. The bridge has one of the friendliest no-cash options in the country. They have machines set up at the overlook parking lot (where all the tourists stop) to let you pay the tolls right there.

    This is a garbage article and makes me less likely to visit this blog in the future.

  22. On the ideological spectrum…San Francisco government is downright middle of the road compared to places like Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and areas further north of the bay.

    And let’s not kid ourselves. California’s economic powerhouse, by and large, developed independently of any government ideological bent. You think Silicon Valley happened because of Progressive policy? Silicon Valley happened because Fairchild Semiconductor (and Shockley before that) made the Valley ground zero for the silicon boom. You go where the actions is and the action was in the South Bay and so it attracted talent from all over….it just happened to be located in a progressive state. Local municipalities and the state stayed out of the way just enough to allow it to take off. Now it’s too big to kill and so lucrative to the state that, outside of polution and superfund related regulations, the state and local governments take a surprisingly un-progressive hands off approach…particularly where tax breaks are concerned.

    It sounds nice to think that California being a progressive state caused it to become an economic powerhouse…especially if you’re a progressive or work in state government. But it’s a fallacy. It happened despite it.

  23. “The customer is only charged when they use the toll tracking device.”

    Bwahahahaha this customer successfully paid cash for tolls six days out of seven with his rental and thus avoided using the in-car FasTrak. And on day seven forgot the GG bridge was cashless and could not turn around in time, and therefore incurred a seven-day administrative use charge of $21 for that goddamn toll. And could not fight that charge as unfair, specious, etc.

    Lesson learned: avoid the GG Bridge or bring your buddy’s FasTrak while covering up the car’s transponder in tinfoil.

  24. “The bridge has one of the friendliest no-cash options in the country. They have machines set up at the overlook parking lot (where all the tourists stop) to let you pay the tolls right there.”

    Gosh I wish I had known that, should’ve started Googling options in haste while driving 45mph.

  25. It cost $7.50 or $8.50 to cross Golden Gate Bridge they mail you a bill in the mail. cause that happen to me going across. they need to have a sign about going across the bridge. and they don’t .

  26. I live in San Francisco and totally support this. This rental car practice is a total scam and is only a way to milk every last cent out of tourists. The rental car companies shouldn’t be making money off the public toll system.

    Gary needs to get a clue on this one and support the travelers who read his blog not greedy corporations trying to take advantage of those very same travelers.

  27. One national toll collection system is what we need.Rental cars should all be equipped with the toll transponder and the cost for that should be included in the rental rates.

  28. we have traveled to SF and southern Calf. We have paid via internet and NOT paid these stupid fees. Why can we not use our local EZ pass in Calf and Florida.

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