The Pain of Electronic Tolls is Felt by More and More FlyerTalk Members

“I n what may seem like a conspiracy by a local authority and a rental car company, FlyerTalk member milohoss was charged $25.80 by Hertz for driving a rental car across the Golden Gate Bridge — which normally charges a six dollar toll.”

This was the first paragraph of an article which I originally wrote on Sunday, May 12, 2013 — almost exactly two years ago — and today, the pain of electronic tolls is felt by more and more FlyerTalk members.

“Furious about this charge for not signing up for the PlatePass system, milohoss was strongly considering filing a class action lawsuit to “ban these toll scams on bridges or tunnels where you do not have any other options.”

I also reported on how some FlyerTalk members chastised milohoss — who usually pays cash at toll booths and does not use express lanes — for not performing due diligence on the fact that payment of tolls on the Golden Gate Bridge are all electronic with no option to pay cash. They also said that milohoss could have used a different bridge; but milohoss argued that there really is no other option to drive to Marin from San Francisco and that a detour via another bridge would significantly add time to the drive — not to mention use more fuel.

Rental Car Companies Can Benefit Handsomely

“Then in 2014, I made the completely unavoidable mistake of driving south over the now-cashless Golden Gate Bridge in a rental car”, complained FlyerTalk member bdschobel. “This time, the $7 toll cost me almost $40!!!!! I was really furious about that one. There was no reasonable alternative route and no way to pay in cash or even by credit card. This is a problem that really needs to be solved. One solution would be for the car-rental companies to charge back only their actual costs and not let third-party billing companies triple or quadruple those costs at our expense.”

Rental car companies have been getting in on the act and profiting handsomely as well by charging customers with administration and equipment fees to the point where it is perceived as gouging; and if that is not bad enough, the amount of money to pay tolls seem to keep increasing.

Even worse is if you are unsure as to whether or not you passed by an electronic toll stanchion which recorded your license plate information. Ignorance is no excuse; so if you receive a bill as your first indication that you owe money for a toll, be prepared to pay as not paying a toll can take a toll on you.

Electronic Tolls: An International Issue

The United States is far from the only country where electronic tolls are becoming pervasive to the point of irritation, inconvenience, prohibitive cost and annoyance. Electronic tolls in South Africa have been called a form of “economic apartheid”; and the Highway 407 Express Toll Route — which is equipped with only electronic tolls — in the Canadian province of Ontario has left many motorists financially strapped and without a legal way to register their vehicles to the point where it has been deemed an “abuse of power”.

Errors in Electronic Tolling

How would you like to receive a fine of $17,000.00 for $36.00 in unpaid tolls? That is what reportedly happened to one frustrated motorist who regularly commutes from Gaithersburg to Alexandria in the express lanes on the Capital Beltway in the greater Washington, D.C. area and pays the tolls with his E-ZPass account, which is deducted automatically from his credit card.

Billing errors to motorists — which virtually did not exist before the advent of electronic tolls — can be difficult to prove and correct; and the burden is on the motorist who will otherwise be forced to pay more money that he or she was supposed to pay.

Viable Alternatives

I have long been against the practice of tolls in general and have written extensively pertaining to this topic; but to implement electronic tolls for the convenience of only those who are willing to pay extra for that convenience is downright unfair — especially when there is no viable alternative route…

…but if there must be electronic tolls, then at least offer choices of alternatives to motorists:

  • Provide a minimum of one lane reserved for those who wish to pay their tolls with cash or credit cards
  • Offer a transponder or alternative form of payment free of charge with no administrative fees which  as easy to understand and use as possible
  • Have variable tolls only for certain lanes of the highway — such as offered on certain highways in the greater Atlanta metropolitan area


Avoiding Tolls

“Is it only me or does no one else set their GPS to ‘avoid tolls’. Even on a visit to New Jersey, passing through New York. I did get confused because you can’t avoid a toll crossing from New Jersey to Connecticut and it was sending me all the way up to Albany; but once I figured it out, I reprogrammed it for that one instance and paid the toll”, advised FlyerTalk member Yellowjj. “No problems in the many years I’ve been traveling and handling a gps.”

You can also use Google Maps as an option to avoid tolls, as shown in the screen shot below…

Imagery ©2015 TerraMetrics. Map data ©2015 courtesy of Google Maps.
Imagery ©2015 TerraMetrics. Map data ©2015 courtesy of Google Maps. Click on this map for a larger image.

…but be aware that Google Maps is not always accurate; so do your homework. Most highways with tolls have their own Internet web sites where you can conduct some research pertaining to additional information about tolls which are charged to motorists.


We cannot be complacent about the proliferation of electronic tolls. I do everything I can to avoid them; and the more people who avoid electronic tolls, the more the entities which operated roads and highways with electronic tolls will feel the pain and be forced to offer more viable alternatives which are cost-effective to consumers. Money is the only message which members of the management team seem to understand; and as long as complacency abounds pertaining to electronic tolls, they will keep increasing both in expense and prevalence…

…otherwise, we will continue to keep hearing about instances such as what happened to the niece of FlyerTalk member SanDiego1K on a toll road in southern California: “Our niece drove our car on this road. She was oblivious to the sign. I subsequently got a fine for $125 or so. She paid, and was mortified.”

She continues on about how “There is a bridge in Seattle that is the same thing. It’s a challenge to read the sign while driving, remember the website, and get the toll paid.”

There is absolutely no reason or excuse to place otherwise innocent law-abiding motorists through such frustration, inconvenience and embarrassment just to drive on a highway to get from point A to point B. In the meantime, ensure you plan your routes whenever you travel to a destination where highways and roads equipped with electronic tolls exist so that you are not surprised with hefty bills loaded with fees when you arrive back home.

What are your thoughts and suggestions to what seems to be an increasing problem pertaining to electronic tolls?

  1. The removal of most manned toll booths has sped up traffic tremendously, at all Bay Area bridges, so I’m 110% for electronic tolls. Only fools would go back to manned toll booths…

    1. One manned toll booth should not make any difference; and if there happens to be a long line of vehicles with motorists who prefer to pay in cash, then that speaks volumes about what many people prefer.

      Even then, I have not advocated a return to manned toll booths. Just offer an option for one or two lanes for those motorists who prefer to pay in cash.

      I do not know about anyone else, Paul, but I am not willing to pay a significant premium on certain highways and bridges — think $40.00 for a seven dollar toll as one example cited in the article — to speed up traffic tremendously…

  2. Meh – you haven’t seen anything yet until you drive on our Miami area electronic variable toll roads where the rate can change by the minute , based on what the traffic will bear. To drive these roads you need what we call a Sun(burn) Pass

    1. Interstate 85 on the northeastern side of Atlanta has those electronic variable toll lanes, AlohaDaveKennedy.

      What I find amusing about them is when there is virtually no traffic on the highway; and yet they still feel the need to charge three cents to travel several miles in that lane…

  3. A couple thoughts.
    Golden Gate Bride- Allows you to set up a temporary account for short periods to pay tolls, ah, but there is a catch. If the rental car company already has the tag registered it will not let you use that tag number (insert sad trombone)
    Miami (Miami-Dade and Broward Counties)- The tolls are fixed on all toll roads except the I-95 Express Lanes and I-595. These lanes have limited entries and exits and are fairly well signed. The adjacent regular lanes are free and have access to all exits.

    I have had the great experience of driving in Dallas and tried my best to avoid toll roads (all which are unmanned) and got I think it was one $0.10 toll which cost me the max plate pass fee of $25 for the week rental. Seems a little extreme

    1. If it helps, W Charles, $25.00 for a ten-cent toll is far more than a “little extreme”, in my humble opinion.

      Oh — and here is that sad trombone sound, emulated by me as best as I possibly can:

      Wahhh wahhh wahhh wa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ahhhhhhhhhh…

  4. It would be immensely helpful if all the toll systems could be linked to each other so that one transponder would work regardless of state AND could be transported to different vehicles when renting etc. Some states already permit this but in Texas no other state is linked to its system. If this was in place it would put the rental car companies out of the toll gathering business to a large extent. I am all for that!

  5. Just faced this issue in FL. Rental company “forgot” to mention that there’s a devise installed in the car and that we’ll be billed for tolls. So, like good little travelers, we made sure we had plenty of change and paid in cash every time…only to come home to an almost $30 bill from A..rental company, automatically changed to our credit card. Not a single soul at check-out or check-in has mentioned tolls. Please recommend any actions we can take. Or is all of our money hopelessly gone?

    1. Did you keep your toll receipts to prove that you paid all of the tolls in cash, Yamalishka? If so, I would present copies of them to the rental car company…

      …but first, please find out why you were charged almost $30.00. Was it a fee to have special equipment in your car; or was it for the tolls?

      You might also consider contacting a representative of the company which issued your credit card, as you should get some good advice. I recently discussed a questionable charge on my credit card with a representative of the company which issued it; and I was advised to dispute the charge even though that was not the specific resolution which I was seeking. All I wanted was more information pertaining to that charge so that I may ascertain whether or not it was legitimate.

      The charge was dropped by the company which initiated the charge; and the company is a reputable company.

      You should never be charged for anything about which you were not informed; so please also check your contract for the rental car for any additional information.

  6. Clearly it’s late, so I apologize for typos: a “device” not “devise” and “charge to our card” not “changed”. Sorry.

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