7/9/2015California: Hertz Accused Of Fraudulent Toll Road Deal
California rental car drivers sue over misleading charges for use of the Golden Gate Bridge.
A federal judge was asked to stop Hertz from teaming up with a red light camera company to overcharge renters who happen to drive across California's Golden Gate Bridge. At the heart of the dispute is PlatePass, a system run by American Traffic Solutions (ATS) that automatically bills Hertz customers when they use a toll road -- and even when they do not.
"Hertz, ATS, and PlatePass have, jointly, implemented a scheme pursuant to which defendants actively withhold the fact that renters of Hertz vehicles are able to pay the toll for the Golden Gate Bridge without utilizing defendants' PlatePass 'service' -- a service that results in millions of dollars in service fees paid by consumers to defendants," attorney Matthew David Carlson wrote to the court in his complaint.
PlatePass photographs the license plate of everyone crossing the toll bridge. If the system detects a rental car without a FasTrak transponder, ATS looks up the renter's information and automatically bills him $4.95 per day for the duration of the rental agreement, plus the highest possible cash rate for the toll. The fee is assessed regardless of whether a toll road is used on subsequent days. This means a renter who has a car for just five days would be charged $32 for making a single, one-way bridge crossing, with $24.75 of that amount going to ATS and Hertz in administrative fees.
The Golden Gate Bridge allows drivers to pay tolls without any extra fees. Within 48 hours of crossing, payment can be made at a cash payment kiosk, over the phone, or by mail. The lawsuit argues that Hertz and ATS are hiding this information from consumers and blocking them from taking advantage of it.
"Defendants do not disclose these payment options to Hertz renters and instead allow Hertz renters to believe that PlatePass service fees arising from traveling through the tolls on the Golden Gate Bridge are unavoidable," the suit alleges. "Plaintiff is informed and believes that Hertz renters are in fact precluded from utilizing the [bridge tolling authority's] pay by mail option because, pursuant to the PlatePass system, defendants automatically advance the toll payment for Hertz renters when the renters go through the toll, and, under such circumstances, the [bridge] does not mail a toll invoice to renters."
The suit points out that the ATS PlatePass website falsely states that the tolling system in the San Francisco Bay area "no longer accepts cash" and "no cash option is available." The suit argues that these statements violate the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act.
"Defendants' failure to disclose the fact that the [bridge tolling authority] does, in fact, accept payments by the above-described means, and its active concealment and partial representations pertaining to this fact, are designed to trick Hertz renters into incurring avoidable service fees, and has resulted in millions of dollars of ill-gained profits to defendants," Carlson wrote.
The suit seeks refunds for all fees collected since March 2013. ATS settled a similar lawsuit in New Jersey for $11 million. US Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero has scheduled a conference in the case for September 25.