Cashless toll roads, another hazard for car renters

Think of it as an invisible road hazard.

Three months after Joan Cox rented a Ford Fusion rental car in Orlando last summer, a surprise bill from Thrifty Car Rental landed in her mailbox. The company wanted 50 cents for a toll violation on the Beachline Expressway, a toll road that connects Orlando with the East Coast beaches and the Kennedy Space Center.

Oh, and one other thing: there was a $25 “administrative fee” for processing.

Cox, an information systems specialist from Wilmington, Del., didn’t recall blowing through any tollbooths during her Florida vacation. So she did a little sleuthing.

“It appears this has happened to many visitors over the last several years and is really quite an issue — almost a scam,” she says. “This also appears to be a setup to out-of-state travelers and a moneymaker for rental car companies.”

Motorists have made such accusations ever since there have been toll roads. Sometimes the charges stick. Back in 2008, consumer advocate Bob Sullivan reported that a company called Violation Management Services, which processes toll violations for car rental companies, promised its customers online that it could turn “a costly customer service headache into a profitable customer service solution.” The company cleaned up its act after that report, removing the incriminating language from its Web site.

Such complaints are becoming more common as all-electronic toll roads get powered up nationwide. In 2010, the North Texas Tollway stopped accepting cash, making it the largest toll road to go cashless. Earlier this year, Florida’s Turnpike moved to an all-electronic system in Miami-Dade County. Anyone driving from Miami International Airport to the Florida Keys would be likely to face an invisible toll. Several other roads in Florida are scheduled to go cashless soon, including Miami’sAirport Expressway and Dolphin Expressway.

Here’s how it works: If you have a transponder, your account gets charged after you pass through the tollbooth. But if you don’t, the system takes a snapshot of your plate and subsequently mails you — or, if you’re in a rental car, the rental agency — a bill. On Florida’s Turnpike, for example, that bill comes with an extra $2.50 administrative fee — not $25.

“This can be such a tough situation to explain to a customer,” says Kathleen Hernandez, a spokeswoman for Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group. The company receives “thousands” of toll, parking and traffic violations each month from all the municipalities across the country. It then has to match the renter to the violation, which can be time-consuming. Thrifty charges $25 for a 50-cent violation because it’s a lot of work to figure out that Cox was responsible for the fine.

Thrifty goes out of its way to disclose the toll roads, according to the company. It hands out brochures warning of the tolls and pointing out which roads they apply to. It also offers, for a fee, an automated service called Rent a Toll that notes the license plate of the rental car and passes the toll charges along to the customer at the end of the rental. Some locations even permit renters to activate the service retroactively when they return a car if they suspect that they’ve failed to pay a toll.

“Ms. Cox’s frustration is understandable — and we do take some flak for the process, but we have honestly worked to provide options for the customer,” says Hernandez.

As to the assertion that this is a rental car scam, the car rental industry insists that it’s not. “This is not a profit center for the car rental companies,” says Bob Barton, president of the American Car Rental Association. “But unfortunately, we have been forced into a situation to provide such a system to facilitate the toll collections for the state.”

That’s definitely something to be aware of the next time you rent a car. You could find yourself driving down a toll road where your money’s no good, or worse, get hit with a toll months after your vacation. Even with the new toll roads, rental companies, citing the high cost of equipping their entire fleet, have made electronic transponders optional.

Incidentally, Cox doesn’t buy Thrifty’s explanation. She says that no one handed her a brochure when she rented her car, and no one offered to let her pay for any tolls retroactively. Even if they had, she would have turned them down, because she says she didn’t even know that she was driving on a toll road.

I’m inclined to believe the car rental industry when it says that it’s doing everything it can to disclose the road hazards and that it has no choice but to comply with the toll collection system. But that’s not the problem. Car rental companies could make every vehicle electronic-toll ready if they wanted to. Would it cost the companies more? Sure. Would it reduce the number of complaints? Absolutely.

Letting a car with no working transponder off the lot in 2011 is like renting someone a car without seat belts or windshield wipers. It’s irresponsible.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • sirwired

    I think Thrifty’s solution (if/when they remember to offer it) is reasonable.  A small fee to rent a transponder and bill the renter is quite reasonable.  (Don’t most places glue a transponder inside a shielding box to the windshield and dangle a sign from it telling you about it?)

    But if you don’t take Thrifty up on their offer, $25 is a bit steep unless Thrifty’s computer systems are THAT bad.  My rental agreement seems to have no problem matching me up with the license plate.  I imagine $2 (on top of the $3 charged by the road) would be reasonable if the renter was billed directly by credit card.  Maybe $3 more if they have to mail the bill, and then late fees if it isn’t paid.

    I do have a hard time believing that these cashless toll roads are that stealthy.  I’ve been on a few, and all of them had plenty of signage marking them as toll roads.

  • Chris in NC

    Great topic, but the article really highlights separate issues.

    The Beachline (aka FL 528), is not a cashless road system. If Cox does not recall blowing through any Toll booths, does that mean she paid the toll and this was an inaccurate or false reporting of a toll violation? That is a completely separate issue from rental car drivers unknowingly driving on a CASHLESS toll road and getting surprised by the exorbitant fees.

    When driving on toll roads in a rental car, I always pay the cashier if possible and get a receipt. Thus, if there is a dispute, I have the documentation to prove that a toll was paid.

    The issue of CASHLESS toll roads for rental cars is a big problem. While these roads are disclosed as a toll road, there is often NO signage to indicate that it is a cashless toll road. A tourist who is unfamiliar with the area may intend to pay the toll, but will find no toll booths.

    Another CASHLESS toll road not mentioned in this article is E470 in Denver, CO. When you take the shuttle bus, there are ample warnings, and the rental agent will also ask. The issue that I have is the steep costs to “rent” a transponder. Rental car companies charge up to $9.99 a day/$34.99 a week + cost of tolls for the privilege of making trips on the road, AND you have to declare your intent to use the toll road when you pick up the car.

    Why can’t the rental car companies simply pass along the tolls with a reasonable transaction fee?

  • Tom

    Avis charges you for using the transponder. It always seems like gouging. If you get a parking ticket, they mark it up with the same surchages too. Florida is just a rip off state in a hurry to kill off the tourism business, but I’m sure the other states will be fast followers.

  • Chris in NC

    @sirwired:disqus The issue isn’t signage indicating a toll road. There is often little to no signage to indicate that the toll road is cashless! An unsuspecting tourist may enter the toll road with the intent to pay, but find no toll booths!

    However, in Cox’s case, she was not on a cashless toll road, so either she drive through an E-pass lane, or her toll didn’t get registered.

  • Susan N

    Well that would be an issue of the state signing highways – the state really should disclose where and how they toll roads. It isn’t the rental companies’ choice to make roads toll roads and make people drive on them.

  • simonhb

    “It’s a lot of work to figure out that Cox was responsible for the fine.”
    Really? The fine has the car plate and the time of the violation on it. I reckon thirty seconds of typing – if you’re a hunt-and-peck typist – would return the details of the driver; then a click to send out a stock letter.

    Admittedly, if the driver doesn’t pay up, there would be admin costs. But add them then, not in advance. 

    What Thrifty are doing is not levying an admin charge, but adding a fine. They should at least be honest about that rather than treating us as fools who don’t know exactly how little work is involved.

  • Charles B

    I am a frequent customer of Thrifty at Orlando’s airport. My last trip was less than a month ago. I was never warned about any cashless toll roads in the area (this is the first I’ve heard of them). Their standard policy on the cash/fast-pass toll roads is to offer me a transponder for $5+ PER DAY. Given that one way to WDW and one way back is less than $5 on those roads, I never accept it. You better believe it’s a money making scam for them, regardless of their PR attempts to cover it.

    PS you do remember the story not two days ago about Thrifty and all of their extra fees disclosed after the bill, right? Same song and dance here.

    PPS indeed, as Chris in NC points out above, the road is not a cashless toll. That’s probably why I hadn’t heard of it.

  • Charles B

    528 and 417, both offer routes between the airport and WDW. Both have E-Pass lanes along the main traffic routes without having to slow down or exit. Both offer cash lanes on a side exit, requiring the driver to slow down, turn off, and transact their toll. They are not hidden or misleading. Did this client blow through an E-Pass hoping they wouldn’t have to pay? 

  • doctork

    Reminds me again to stay away from Thrifty. Thank you.

  • Chris in NC

    and how is Thrify different from Dollar, Avis, Hertz, Budget or any other rental car company in this matter?

  • Wayne Dayton

    I rented from Enterprise at Orlando back in June.  The transponder/toll road collection fee was reasonably priced at a maximum of approx. $6/rental, not per day, and the subsequent toll fees were correctly posted to my card a month or so later, matching what I expected to pay.  Thus, it shows it CAN be done, just that Dollar Thrifty Group doesn’t want to do it.

  • Vf2648

    Just got back from Florida- Hertz has a “Plate Pass” affixed to the front windshield.  The problem is that there is a surcharge of $3.95 for each usage, in addition to paying the tolls.  You could buy a mini SunPass, but that is NOT transferable and MUST be affixed to the windshield.  Certainly not gong to do that for a rental car, esp. when I;m not sure exactly how much toll road driving I’ll be doing.  I was lucky and borrowed my brother’s SunPass for the duration of my trip.  I don’t mind paying for my toll usage, but a surcharge?? Most, if not all, rental cars these days have GPS/tracking devices that can even tell when and where you last filled up the gas tank (trust me, I know!!).  All it takes is the little device they use to check you out when returning the car to tally up your ACTUAL toll usage and add just that to the bill.  Surcharges for doing nothing are a ripoff!!

  • Ralphgot

    I had exactly the same problem with Thrifty in Orlando a year or two ago. I’ve rented cars in Orlando many times and only had this issue with Thrifty. No one from Thrifty gave me any warning or printed material about this.

  • Kovsky

    I think it’s a good idea to install them, but the rental car companies would add on to the bill.  On the Dallas toll roads, you certainly know you are on a toll road, and I am pretty sure in the rest of the country.  Maybe like just below in an area where there are many cashless toll roads, an optional transponder could be made available.  Otherwise, I think the driver is fully responsible for any fees imposed. 

  • Raven_Altosk

    Total scam. 

    Transponders are $15. But, alas, fooling customers and charging “administrative fees” nets at least $25 each hit.

    I know some rental agencies (ones that don’t suck like Thirfty) allow you to “rent” the transponder. Sometimes these are overpriced, but if you know you’ll be traveling on toll roads and can expense it, it’s usually the way to go.

    Also…$25 to look up a name in a computer? Really? Wow. You stay classy, Thrifty!

  • midmom8949

    It’s not that simple.  I hate to take the side of a car rental company, but we get these sorts of complaints in our corporate travel office all the time.  

    A rental company wants a fee for someone failing to pay the toll.  The company gives us the name.  Inevitably, the driver/renter disagrees and insists they didn’t use any toll roads.  

    We ask the rental company to provide photographic evidence at their own expense.  Meantime, we ask the driver/renter to identify any routes they took and look up toll roads.  It’s a lot of time on both ends, and inevitably, the driver/renter either didn’t know they flew through toll booth (which I find suspicious) or didn’t know they were driving on a toll road (which I find stupid).  But once the photos are sent, there’s not much dispute.

    That said, transponders are standard these days.  Rental companies should install them pro forma and simply collect the toll plus whatever it costs to have the transponder in the car.  

  • Marchair53

    Thrifty hit us with two “administrative fees” in Dallas in 2008. Yes the toll roads are clearly marked, but there was no way to pay. We expected to be presented with a bill for the tolls, which we would pay. But we weren’t given the chance. Two months later we were charged the penalties as if we’d been given a chance to pay but hadn’t done it. Even though we disputed the fees, they stuck. It is a trap, or a scam! We will NEVER use Thrifty again!

  • burt

    I agree that it would be nice to have the transponders.  Unfortunately, the Florida systems are not compatible with any other system around the country.  And since rental cars move from state to state (and bargain rentals to drive cars north in the spring) how is that handled?

  • MeanMeosh

    Luckily here in North Texas, the transponders are free and anyone can get one.  Back in the good old days, the NTTA had these removable transponders that could be easily transferred from vehicle to vehicle, as long as you went online and updated the license plate number.  A common trick for frequent visitors was to just ask the NTTA for a transponder and have it mailed to them (they’ll send one anywhere except to addresses around Houston or Austin), then carry the TollTag with them every time they came to town so they could stick it on the windshield of the rental car when they got to the airport.  The problem today, though, is twofold:  1) they switched to “sticker” tags a few years ago that aren’t removable/transferable, and 2) pretty much all rental agencies in DFW have outfitted their vehicles with TollTags, so even if you have one of the old style removable ones, the system won’t accept the rental car’s plate number because it already has a tag registered with the agency.  And oh by the way, the NTTA gives you dire warnings that if you attempt to use your TollTag on an unregistered vehicle, they’ll hit you up with a fine of $25 a pop (that’s for EACH toll transaction).  Fortunately, most of the agencies here are fairly reasonable about renting their transponders; $2.50 a day/$10 a week max seems to be the going rate, and you can use the transponders on Houston and Austin toll roads too.

    Honestly, the bigger problem on DFW’s toll roads is that now that they have gone completely cashless, unless you’re from the area or drive here frequently, there’s really no way to find out until you actually get on one of the roads, can’t find a manned both, and start wondering what the heck “ZipCash” means.  And the few times I’ve rented locally, not one location, airport or in-town, has provided any kind of warning that none of the area’s toll roads accept cash. 

  • Zedp3

    I got “trapped” in a cashless toll booth trying to get back to O’Hare to return my car and catch a flight. I even attempted to use my phone’s GPS to determine an alternate route to the airport to no avail… However what saved the day was that there were clearly marked signs for the Illinois toll website that gave you a week to pay afterwards. I went online, there was a selection for rental cars, and the toll booth, and I paid. No after-penalty from the rental company! I like this alternative better than being forced to rent a toll transponder by the day from the car agency.

  • cjr001

    This is a hard one. While I can certainly see the argument for such devices in states where there are toll roads, what happens when you’re coming from out of state? Shouldn’t everybody be aware of the possibility of toll roads these days, since so many states have them or are allowing them to be built?

    I usually rent only in-state where I live, and we have one toll road, a loop around the metro, and I avoid it.

    I rented for the first time in Florida recently, and since I was driving from Orland to Tampa, I did a lot of research on the roads I would be on to make sure I avoided toll roads.

    The Enterprise location I rented from did have some information on toll roads, including the possibility of them in the confirmation e-mail I received. But I do not recall anything being handed to me about them, nor was anything mentioned to me about them when I picked up the rental.

    Side note: I got gypped a few bucks on my return to the airport. The rental location was at a hotel. I wanted to get a taxi to the airport, and they offered me a towncar service instead. This service did turn out to be cheaper, but the driver did not tell me until I got to the airport that there was a service charge for paying by credit card. That should have been up front, as every fee these days should be.

  • Readontheroad

    From the (Florida) Sunpass web site:    Most major rental car companies now offer their customers the option of including tolls with the credit card used to rent the vehicle. These rental car customers can use Florida’s toll roads and not worry about carrying cash or stopping to pay for tolls. Using license plate recognition systems allows rental car customers to use the Express, SunPass ONLY, EPASS ONLY and LeeWay ONLY lanes to bypass congestion and traffic; identifying rental vehicles by the license plate and using that information to electronically collect the toll(s). These car rental companies have registered their fleets’ license plates through third party vendors so their renters’ tolls will be applied to the rental agreement. see
    The SunPass Portable transponder costs $25 plus tax. The SunPass Mini Sticker transponder, good on only one vehicle costs $4.99 plus tax. Both units allow motorists to have tolls electronically deducted from a prepaid account. Both require a minimum opening balance of $10 for a personal account, Commercial accounts have a different opening balance.Transponders issued to commercial accounts are interchangeable between vehicles, regardless of vehicle type or axle count.

  • cjr001

    I have to agree. Granted, I’ve only been on the toll roads between ORL and WDW, but I distinctly recall that, although they may be cashless, there are booths to stop and pay.

    So, it sounds like she just flew through the express lanes without paying, and those are clearly marked.

    Also, the toll roads themselves are also clearly marked on signs before you get on them.

  • BlondieDC

    How much can installing transponders cost the rental car company?  They should negotiate with the state so they pay a monthly toll-bill for all their cars, since monies are usually pre-loaded on the transponders.  Then, the state sends the car company the transponders for every car, and the company puts them in.  How hard is this?  It seems the car rental business is one that really tries to screw the consumer…as well as local municipalities with all the taxes they add to a car rental.  (My recent rental in MEM added over 30% of the car price in taxes! It’s crazy!)  Why don’t the rental agencies look for solutions for their customers, rather than wys to get one one on their customers?  I don’t get it…  

  • Clare

    I was thinking much the same thing–Thrifty’s attitude appears to be to just wring their hands helplessly.  Why couldn’t they take the bull by the horns instead, and see whether they can sit down with reps from the various state govts and negotiate some sort of frequent-user agreement that will work for everybody?

    Since Thrifty obviously can’t be bothered to try to come up with some innovative (and financially more efficient) arrangement w/ the states that would benefit its customers, the only possible explanation that I can think of for their indolence is that they view this as a way to gouge them instead!

    “Thrifty” in this case apparently = “Cheap.”  Am adding another company to my Never-To-Do-Business-With list… 

  • Lindabator

    Then you would have already known about the toll roads, right?

  • The Condor

    How about putting some responsibility on those who are not providing cash alternatives for these toll roads? 

    Or, alternatively, make the transponders work across the system, so my transponder for a toll road in California works in Massachusetts, and is not tied to an automobile, but to an individual?

  • PIP Digital

    I’m reading this and thinking – Um, look up the license plate of the vehicle, see who was renting it on the day of the violation, bill it to the credit card on file, staple the receipt to the violation, file it away.  I’m seeing about 5 minutes work here.  Unless Thrifty or whomever is paying their employees $500 an hour, this is an unreasonable amount of money, this $25 admin fee.

    It’s a revenue generator, plain and simple.

  • Eric

    Does Florida accept EZ-Pass for their toll roads?  I’m planing a trip in Feb. and I might just take my Virginia EZ-Pass along in my carry-on bag.

    There is another cashless toll-road pitfall to keep in mind.  On some roads, in the Northeast the PA Turnpike comes to mind, the pass is read when you enter and then again when you exit.  But if the system fails to read your pass when you get enter, when you exit, you’ll be charged the highest potential toll to that exit.  So you could go only 20 miles, but be charged as if you traveled 300.

    I have a small metal box I keep behind the seat.  When I’m going to use the PA Turnpike, I put the EZ-Pass inside so it won’t be read by the sensors, and then I pay cash.  Since I only do this a few times a year, it’s not a huge waste of time.

  • DesrtDrmr

    We rented a car from Thrifty in Orlando over the Thanksgiving holiday.  I had read about the transponders on their web site, so we did have that included in our rental.  We had also been in that area in the summer, in our own car, and several times did not even know we were on a toll road until it was time to drive through a toll plaza, and THEN we found out that we couldn’t pay.  I believe that Florida, and Texas (we were there too) and other states that have cashless tollways should have a kiosk with explanation that sells temporary transponders at the state welcome centers, so we tourists are not surprised.

  • Ann Lamoy

    Here in Washington we don’t have toll roads (yet) but we do have a toll bridge at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. There are a number of lanes that drivers pass through with the Good-to-Go pass. Everyone else uses the cash only lanes. (This is a one way toll by the way-you pay coming from Gig Harbor into Tacoma). The tolls are to help pay for the new bridge.

    They are going to start tolling on the 520 floating Bridge up in Seattle sometime this month but it is going to work differently. No toll booths, there are sensors set up to read the Pass. If you don’t have a pass, cameras read your license plate and you get a bill in the mail. So this will affect everyone-and tolling is in both directions. They are using the toll money to build a new bridge as well. And there is an alternative bridge to drive over to avoid the toll. Unfortunately with this bridge, there was no way to build in toll booths. With the Narrows Bridge-they built the bridge first so could build in the toll booths.

    We also have one other road that using the Pass. I167 coming up from the Tacoma area can get quite congested at peak commute times. The HOV lanes is usually emptier so they decided to open it to one person cars for a fee-charged via the Pass. The amount fluctuates, based on how busy the road is. So the slower the traffic, the higher the fee. As a traveler the only way you would get penalized on this short stretch of road for using this would be if you were a single person. If you were a family you would be legitimately using this lane anyway.

    I am sure in the future that as my state (and others) look for ways to raise revenue, tolls on roads and bridges will increase. And the electronic pass system only makes sense. I do think a standardized system in the future also makes sense. Then again, you will have some people that would be vehemently against this because they feel it would be too easy for the government to track their movements if such a pass was tied strictly to them.

  • Allegrazek

    I like your posts, but find your “votes” moronic. Talk about push polls! You set up the “correct” response in the lead in – and given American’s laziness in voting, of course you get the answer you want. Comparing no transponder to no wiper blades. Lazy, lazy stuff, my friend. You’re better than this – or so I’d have thought.

    Letting a car with no working transponder off the lot in 2011 is like renting someone a car without seat belts or windshield wipers. It’s irresponsible

  • Alon Adar

    Florida’s toll systems (SunPass) are not compatible with systems from out of state.

  • LarryB

    I’m always amazed at the way so many car rental companies do business. Sometimes the best thing to do is to write off the $0.50.

    When I rent a car in New York, I always make sure to get one with an EZPass. I recall paying a one-time fee for the thing (maybe $5 or so) and then getting charged for tolls later. It all seemed very fair to me.

    All those crazy fees popping up in Florida are almost certainly another way of fleecing Disney-bound out of state tourists.

  • Steve20

    Careful in Florida…I got hit with 3 Pay by Plate Tolls. $25 for each. Total $75 for 2  $.25 and 1 $.50 toll. The next trip I bought a Sun Pass transponder, use a Sun Pass App for my iPhone and report the plate number for the rental car and hit the road.

  • Sally Allen

    Mr. Elliot- you have probably already seen this but in case you haven’t….  it was republished in our local Maine paper.  I have no idea as to the veracity….

  • Sally Allen
  • Ladies Golf Gifts

    I think the transponder along with some good old fashion courteous information about the fact that there are cashless toll roads in the area would be a reasonable solution.

  • Shannon Rich

    I live in western Washington, where we not only have cashless toll roads, but the tolls vary during peak times, and sometimes have no tolls at all!  However, there are signs on the road that give you warning so you can get out of that particular lane to avoid the tolls if you wish.  I have also traveled extensively from Georgia to Virgina, and the toll roads can be very confusing to someone who is not used to them.  There is no excuse to not have transponders on the vehicles and to make sure you warn your customers that this is a toll state.  Write it on the rental form for goodness sake! oh, and there is NO reason no to have the tolls paid by the customer before they leave the rental desk. 

  • Joe Farrell

    Two things at work here – car rental companies need to put transponders in all their vehicles rented in areas that have them – and those who rent them need to understand the process and accept them as part of the transaction.  

    I was in Chicago/Illinois etc in June.  The car had a transponder that cost $10 one time fee.  I”m sure the ‘administration’ does not cost $10 but have you seen the cash lanes on the toll roads in the Chicago area?  I must have saved $250 of my time – and $500 in aggravation by being able to use the EZPass lanes [or whatever they call it in Illinois] for the grand sum of $10.  Geesh people, it costs money to travel – just accept it.  

  • Dacke875

    Does an;yone know if you can take your transponder from home with you and use it when you travel to other states? We have the same thing here in denver. But we have trasponders on all our cars. It can be removed with velcro. Are they universal?

  • guest

    I got a bill in the mail last week for passing through a toll road that I hadn’t driven through.  

  • Jeanine

    I have ended up driving between MCO and WDW several times a year for the past 5 years or so.  Last month I got billed for 2 toll charges from the rental agency for the very first time, for tolls that I didn’t remember passing through (528 on the way to the airport.)  The rental company said they were cashless tolls that had no option for paying other than electrically.  

    I have checked the CASHLESS map on the Florida highway websites, and found no mention of this location, although I do have a vague memory from past visits, noticing a large toll plaza being constructed somewhere along the highway.  My presumption is that either:  This is a huge scam; or they have recently started using a poorly marked CASHLESS toll plaza right next to the airport off the 528.  Either way, I think it’s entirely possible Cox is describing the situation exactly as it occurred.

  • SC Flier

    In Colorado, the rental agencies charge a per-day fee for the entire rental even if you only use a toll road on a single day.  It’s a scam.

  • Jim6555

    Every spring and summer, Hertz and Avis offer very attractive rates for customers to rent cars in Florida for a one way trip to places north. This is a way for them to move their fleets from Florida to places that have higher summer rental demand. Hertz was advertising a rate of $5 per day for a compact car which I rented for 10 days at Tampa International Airport and dropped it off at Long Island / MacArthur Airport near New York City. At the rental counter in Tampa, I asked about a transponder and the agent said that I didn’t need one because Hertz had a deal in place with all of the toll agencies on the east coast. She told me to use the Sunpass (Florida) or Easy-Pass (Northeast states) lanes and that the toll agencies would take a picture of the license plate and send the bill to Hertz. She said that there was a $10 maximum fee per week for the service. 

    On the way home from the airport, I encountered a toll booth on the Veterans Expressway in Tampa. I paid that toll in cash since I expected that this would be the only toll that I would encounter for a few days and didn’t want $10 added on to the $1 toll. The route that I took going north had no toll facilities until I reached Virginia. I did so four days later since we made three overnight stops in Georgia and South Carolina. I then encountered toll roads (none were cashless) in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. About two months after dropping off the car, I received a notice from Hertz that they had charged my credit card for all of the tolls accumulated on the trip. The amounts charged appeared to be correct. The $10 service fee was included. For me, the system worked. 

  • cjr001

    Ann, the concern about tracking is certainly legit. There have been divorce cases (and probably others) where the data from these toll systems has been used in court.

  • cjr001

    Is the rental company charging you to have seat belts and windshield wipers?

    Because they will most certainly charge you for a transponder, and not everybody needs one. Toll roads CAN be avoided.

  • cjr001

    You’ll need to check with the company or service your transponder is used with, but odds are it is not.

    Florida’s SunPass isn’t compatible with any other system, but others used in some states may have some compatibility with other states (somebody above mentioned Virginia & Pennsylvania).

  • cjr001

    And isn’t the only toll road C-470? Don’t know what the price is to drive it, but it can’t amount to what the fee is going to end up being.

  • Pablocruise

    I recently had exactly the opposite problem with an Avis rental.  Without telling me, the Avis car had an automatic toll transponder installed.  I didn’t notice the device (it was behind the rear view mirror), and I paid the toll in cash.  The device used by Avis can be turned on or off by Avis or the driver, and had been activated by Avis without telling me.  I was later billed for the tolls by Avis.  When I complained the charged was ultimately taken off, but only after the customer service representative told me that I was totally at fault for not having noticed the device, that the contract clearly stated that the device was on the car and was active (which it did not) and that I was told orally by the representative when I rented the car (which, again, it didn’t happen). 

  • Chris in NC


    The 470 highway system in Denver is very confusing. There is C-470 which runs from I-70 west to I-25 south which does not have tolls. The toll component is E-470 and the Northwest Parkway. There is also a variable toll rate on the HOT lanes on I-25. The toll rate depends on traffic conditions.

    SC Flier is right about the “rip off.” Most travelers drive E-470 only to get to/from the airport. The rental car agencies charges per day for the transponder during the entire length of rental, not per day of use. At up to $8.95/day and/or $34/week, that is a hefty surcharge to be added to any toll fees.

    If you are renting a vehicle in Denver, avoid E-470 at all costs! As you say, the transponder rental will often exceed the actual toll use by up to several fold!

  • Chris in NC

    Dacke, it also depends on the transponder.

    Some systems are fixed to the windshield and are for a single vehicle only. Others can be moved to different vehicles.

    Florida’s Sunpass actually covers multiple toll systems in Florida only. Few know that there are separate toll authorities like the MDX, O-pass, E-pass, etc., where Sunpass is the “universal” system.

    We travel to Florida enough that it was worth the cost to purchase a Transponder, but it is not compatible with NE systems.

  • Chris in NC

    BTW, the other pitfalls that you may encounter when using your own personal transponder on a rental vehicle…

    1) If the vehicle already has a transponder, you need to turn it off, otherwise, you will get double billed
    2) You may not be able to register the rental vehicle on your transponder, however, the vehicle license plate information is NOT used unless the transponder is defective. So, if the transponder works, then you technically don’t need to register the vehicle.
    3) If you purchase a transponder once you arrive, you may not be able to activate the transponder instantly! Sunpass requires activation M-F only and some systems like the MDX require 24 hours to become active

  • Dave Lieberman

    I’m sorry, I don’t buy it for a second. I was just in Orlando, driving on the Beachline. First of all, the signs itself for the road have a red outline of Florida around the 528 and the word “TOLL” right next to it. Second of all, there tollbooths. It’s not a cashless toll road. There are signs starting a mile and a half before each toll booth and a giant barrier toll at each place.

    I see the problem for things like some of the truly cashless ones like the ones near Houston or the CA-91 Express Lanes near Los Angeles, and I hate to be heartless, but if she missed the giant signs on the Beachline, then the $25 is pay-more-attention-next-time tax.

  • Dave Lieberman

    E470 transponders are not compatible with any system outside of Colorado. Florida transponders (E-pass, SunPass, O-Pass, etc.) are only usable in Florida. California transponders (FasTrak) are only usable in California. The only large area that has interchangeable toll tags is the E-Z Pass system, which goes from Maine to Virginia, from New York to Illinois.

    It’d be nice to have a nationwide standard, but that would be, you know, work.

  • The Irish Black Rose

    I recently traveled to Dallas to visit some friends. I had not lived in the area for more than 5 years so I was unaware the toll roads went cashless. When I rented a car through Enterprise I was never advised of the toll road situation or offered a toll tag. If it wasn’t for one of my friends who lives in the area telling me about it while I was leaving the airport in the rental car I would have been charged multiple times for going through tolls. As it was I had to spend extra time driving from place to place avoiding the toll roads and taking side streets. The rental car companies DO NOT advise of the toll road situations because they can make money off people who are not aware. Disgraceful.

  • Jeanine

    Well, there is of course, no reason why anyone should believe anyone on the internet, however my experience tallys with both your and the poster’s accounts:  I saw the general TOLL signs for the 528; I saw (and paid at) the regular tollbooths; I didn’t see any cashless toll plazas; and I got a bill for the cashless tolls regardless.

  • TomRI

    They offer you XM radio and a GPS but they can not give you a transponder?  Why can we not use our own transponder in other states like FL and TX while we are on VACA also?   The car rental companies just want the extra $25 fee they double bill each rental car that comes in —– like a bagage fee that is not in the price.

  • djp

    As a tourist, if you arent familiar with these routes you can easily pass these. Especially the ones where there is a side exit to pay.  Many may confuse this with how other places operate such as the NY State toll system or Dulles airport toll road…where the toll booths are on exits

  • TomRI

    Dave, my sister was charged a toll from Avis for driving on the beachline 2 hrs before her flight landed.  The toll signs are on the road most of the time where you can not make a U turn or leave the road to go elsewhere.  Transponders are now MANDATORY in these areas for residents, why not tourist reniting too?

  • TomRI

    RI EZ Pass takes 24 hours to activate and costs $20 to set up with a $20 deposit.  this can be used in New England and NY State.

  • djp

    I also live in Washington.  to clarify some of the terminology….

    What they did on 167 was install what is called a NOT lane which is for vehicles of 2 or more people its free. For single drivers there is a toll.  This only covers the northern 10 miles of the highway. 

    They are planning on building a similar HOT lane on I-405 from bellevue on north to the merger of I-5.  This will instead be a 3+ person HOT lane.

    In Virginia on the 405 beltway they are building a HOT lane. 

    Lake Washington divides Seattle from Bellvue and the mountains.  There are only two bridges across it…I-90 and SR 520.  The other option is to take I-405 and loop around the lake which adds about 15 miles to your drive.

    The issue is they need to build the SR 520 bridge and widen it from its current 2 lanes each way. Part of the dabte in this project is how wide will it get, where there be separate HOT/HOV lanes, will there be a dedicate light rail line on the bridge.  To pay for it they need to charge a toll.

    If they charge a toll then people will bypass 520 and take the I-90 bridge which means they really need to charge tolls on both bridges.

    Because of traffic flow this will be an electronic system.

    This new electornic system they are looking to implement has been an utter disaster.  The idea is for the tolling sytem to be universal which would cover the HOT lanes, the bridges, and the state ferry system.

    Currently the Tacoma Narrows bridge system is a disaster where the new contracted system isnt accuratly charging drivers.

  • Pamajama1216

    I’m not mad at the rental car companies so much as I’m mad at the states who make it inconvenient for people traveling through their states. And not just people renting cars but people driving their own vehicles. The Illinois tollway system has I-pass and as of now they still have manned booths except on exit ramps. I traveled east and was able to use my I-Pass because there is reciprocation between the 2 companies. Why can’t all the states have a reciprocation system. My friends traveled to Colorado to visit family and got screwed because of the all electronic toll system Colorado has. They had their I-Pass in their car like always but couldn’t use it. Yes a $25 fee to process a $.50 toll is ridiculous! With everything computerized, how difficult and time consuming would it be to find who had the car? I don’t like being forced to pay a rental fee on something I might not use and I can see the rental car companies charging rental for this item even if you don’t use it if they were forced to install these in all their cars. Then paying the tolls on top of that (which I have no problem paying the tolls). On my annual Disney World trip in October, I had the option of using the transponder in the car. But I didn’t want to pay a 10 day rental for something I’d use going to/from the airport, 2 days out of 10. Nope, I’ll pay the cash since I can. So I took the transponder off the window and set it in the center console. Now if I only had to pay rental for the transponder for the number of days of actual use (my 2 days out of 10) then I might be a little amenable to renting one. Of course I could always buy a transponder for every state that I travel through. But they seem to mainly have a $20 minimum balance. I checked into purchasing a transponder for Florida since I travel there a lot.
    Maybe tourists need to start contacting the states of all electronic tollways and let them know they’ll take their vacation dollars elsewhere unless there is a tourist friendly option.

  • Pamajama1216

    Florida toll road from the airport to Disney World is well marked as to whether you’re using cash or the electronic pass which side of the road you use. It’s not leaving the highway. Just picking left lanes for e-pass or right lanes for cash. And that’s how it’s stated.
    But I agree that signage needs to be complete and informative whether you can pay cash or you need an e-pass. And early enough before you get on the entrance ramp and are trapped.

  • Pamajama1216

    Are the toll roads marked as cashless or just marked as toll roads?

  • Pamajama1216

    The cashless tolls are in the process of being implemented in Florida. I read about them before my October trip. Researched that the one that I used to get from the airport to Disney World wasn’t affected yet.

  • Pamajama1216

    That’s about the only good thing on the Illinois Tollway (Chicago area resident speaking). Hopefully that practice will continue. As of Jan. 1 they’re doubling the toll for cars.

  • Pamajama1216

    There is actually talk of trying to use the transponders to cite speeding tickets. They know how long it takes at the speed limit to get from booth A to booth B. If you get there before that, you’d be issued a speeding ticket. Another way of getting additional revenue.

  • Pamajama1216

    I do NOT want to pay for a transponder just because it is in my rental car whether I use it or not. It is NOT a piece of equipment necessary for my travel. Next they’ll start charging for a spare tire, heat or a/c, etc. The rental car companies would be raking in transponder rentals from people who wouldn’t even drive on a toll road. Why penalize all travelers.
    People need to research their trips to make informed decisions. But the states also need to be upfront about letting tourists know BEFORE they get on a toll road whether or not it is an all electronic roadway.
    I like the state that takes a picture of the plate if you don’t have a transponder and mails you a bill. But you do pay a processing fee. This is just another way of cash-strapped states gouging people for more money. Unfortunately the tourist seems to be the biggest cash cow for them.

  • Pamajama1216

    I can only speak from my friend’s experience when they drove to Colorado and they had the Illinois Tollway I-Pass and it was not accepted. 
    I think EZ Pass (east coast pretty much) and I-Pass are the only ones that reciprocate. I flew to Maine and used my I-Pass in my rental car all over the area on the EZ Pass roads. Loved it! Made travel so much easier.

  • Pamajama1216

    Why should I pay for a transponder rental if I’m not driving on tollways. If these transponders are mandatory in a rental car, you can be sure they are not going to just let you drive around without paying a daily rental fee for it. Mandatory installation on rental cars isn’t the answer.

  • Marchair53

    Well, it’s been 3 years, so memory is not crystal clear. The road was marked as a toll road. I don’t recall whether it was marked as cashless — but there were no toll booths or any place to pay. It was the/one-of-the road/s to the Dallas airport, so we, as tourists, couldn’t avoid it. (We couldn’t find any way to avoid it. Perhaps locals know tricks to avoid it that we didn’t.)

  • Cherioak

    I disagree with this.  I DO believe this is a moneymaker for the companies.  We were in Orlando this past September.  We were offered a toll transponder for the princely sum of $6 a day.  We declined, we knew the area and handled our tolls (we bought a sunpass).  We did NOT spend $6 a day. Many days we didn’t require a toll at all.  The company we rented from was Dollar.  They are making money off this, especially from the international travelers who ddo not understand the toll system.


    I was just there last week march 2012 and no they are not marked as cashless, just a small blue sign that says toll road (not a state sign), so even that could be easy to miss.  If you look to the side you see signs that say CASH option, so you at least expect the unmanned coin stations, but there is none.

  • foampositesonline

    Dollar Rent a Car just got charged $202 for 8 so-called INVISIBLE toll roads driving from Miami International Airport to Key West The keyword is is “INVISIBLE” if it’s invisible it’s a trap and is illegal. I need to get a job with Dollar because $25 administrative fee per toll road….my check will be like $30k/month working with them. 


  • fu8ar

    Yes they should have transponders in cashless toll areas. It should be part of the customer service aspect. At least if I were running a rental service I would to curb the costs in time and money. Not to mention time dealing with complates from those where communication broke down pertaining to toll locations

  • jasonrose231

    There is no Cashless toll booths in the Chicago Metro. All of the mainline toll booths have Cash Lanes and Open Road Tolling. All of the exit/entrance tolls have iPass and Coin Lanes.

  • speaksoftly

    The real issue is the use of cashless toll roads. Since when is US currency not accepted? If a state wants to charge a toll, they are legally required to accept cash. They should be sued to stop this practice.

  • Theodore

    There is a simple solution to all of this. Probably 90% of the states have toll roads. make the toll payment system universal such that my ez pass system in Va works in Texas, etc.