Toll Roads & Personal Transponders

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Mar 20, 2019
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#1
This is a “heads up” post about car rentals, toll roads, and personal transponders. Thankfully it had a good outcome but I wanted to share the story so others might be spared the inconvenience.

I live in Northern California and have my own “Fastrak” toll transponder. Recently I traveled to Southern California and rented a car from Alamo. I brought my personal “Fastrak” toll transponder with me and properly affixed it in the rental vehicle before departing the airport. During my visit I used a Southern California toll road where if you were a car pool traveling with the correct transponder (such as the one I was using) then there would be no toll.

A few weeks after my trip, I received a toll violation notice from Alamo along with the $20 administrative fee. A couple weeks later the toll road agency sent me the notice with the $25 fine for the $0.30 incorrectly assessed toll. A call to the toll road agency revealed that the transponder in the vehicle is ignored on the toll road if the license plate is not on the same account as the transponder.

Thankfully I was able to contact “Fastrak” and get the plate added to my account and after 48 hours the toll and related fine were removed. Also to Alamo’s credit they reversed the administrative fee after I requested it and showed proof the violation had been removed, though I would have understood if they did not since they did need to process the original toll violation notice.

So, the take-away is that if you are using your personal toll transponder on a rental vehicle, be sure to add the plate before you leave the rental lot. I also discovered that “Fastrak” does not allow you to “backdate” the starting time for the plate on your online account which makes it even more important that you add it before you drive off. (in the past they did let you enter prior dates).
 

jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
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#2
Thanks for sharing this story, sacto. People need to know about the pitfalls of toll roads in rental cars. I just rented a GMC in Tampa, drove south to Fort Myers, across to Palm Beach and back. I forgot to ask Budget about the toll thingy, so I called them before I left Tampa. They told me how to turn it on. It wasn't there, the truck had no transponder. So I shrugged and decided to pay cash for any tolls. It was remarkably simple. I don't think I'll ever dork around with this toll stuff again. $4 a day to Budget for ten days just for the privilege of sailing through the toll booths ... not such a great deal it turns out. I guess if you're driving long distances nearly every day, crossing state borders and that kind of thing, a transponder in your rental would be very convenient. Otherwise, it's no big deal to pay a few tolls. I frankly don't know how travellers can keep up with all the rules ... and I definitely don't want to waste my time getting charges reversed at rental car companies and toll authorities.
 
Likes: sactonumbers

Neil Maley

Moderator
Staff Member
Advocate
Dec 27, 2014
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www.promalvacations.com
#3
Thanks for sharing this story, sacto. People need to know about the pitfalls of toll roads in rental cars. I just rented a GMC in Tampa, drove south to Fort Myers, across to Palm Beach and back. I forgot to ask Budget about the toll thingy, so I called them before I left Tampa. They told me how to turn it on. It wasn't there, the truck had no transponder. So I shrugged and decided to pay cash for any tolls. It was remarkably simple. I don't think I'll ever dork around with this toll stuff again. $4 a day to Budget for ten days just for the privilege of sailing through the toll booths ... not such a great deal it turns out. I guess if you're driving long distances nearly every day, crossing state borders and that kind of thing, a transponder in your rental would be very convenient. Otherwise, it's no big deal to pay a few tolls. I frankly don't know how travellers can keep up with all the rules ... and I definitely don't want to waste my time getting charges reversed at rental car companies and toll authorities.
The only issue is on the Florida Turnpike they are making many exits cashless. Without a transponder you will have a problem. You need to know to stay off toll roads without the transponder.
 
Mar 20, 2019
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#5
The California toll roads don't have a cash option. And the problem was the rental car's license plate and the transponder had to be tied together in my personal Fastrak account in order to avoid penalty. Just simply having a transponder in the vehicle was not enough in California as the toll authority ignored the transponder reading until I put the plate of the rental vehicle on my transponder account.
 
Likes: AMA

AMA

Verified Member
Dec 11, 2014
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#6
This is also true of EZPass in Massachusetts. They match the charges to the plate of the car. Sometimes I will rent a car to drive to Connecticut or New York, and I always have to remember to go into my EZPass account and add the license plate of the rental, to avoid this situation.
 
Dec 19, 2014
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#7
More and more often, roads are electronic tolling only, and no cash option is given.
In North Carolina, all the toll roads are electronic tolling only

At least for the NC transponder, you are allowed to add a license plate online, and it is compatible with EZ pass and Sunpass, so we are good up and down the east coast.

Off topic : I do think the rental car policy of charging a DAILY fee for entire rental for the privilege of using their transponder or plate pass despite the fact that most renters only need it for a short amount of time is one of the biggest consumer rip offs.
 
Mar 20, 2019
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#8
This is also true of EZPass in Massachusetts. They match the charges to the plate of the car. Sometimes I will rent a car to drive to Connecticut or New York, and I always have to remember to go into my EZPass account and add the license plate of the rental, to avoid this situation.
Thanks for the "other state" prospective AMA! In California previously the message from the toll agencies has always been "its a good idea to add the plate to your account just in case the transponder is not read". In my opinion the toll agencies need to do a better job with the message "you must add the plate to your account as the transponder alone will NOT work" as that is the way the toll road I was using worked. Oh, and the dream of someday having national wide operability. But that is just a dream at this point.
 
Likes: AMA

Barry Graham

Administrator
Staff Member
Director
Jan 7, 2015
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#9
I can't see the point in having a transponder and a transponder reader at all if they are reading your license plates.
 
Mar 20, 2019
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#10
More and more often, roads are electronic tolling only, and no cash option is given.
In North Carolina, all the toll roads are electronic tolling only

At least for the NC transponder, you are allowed to add a license plate online, and it is compatible with EZ pass and Sunpass, so we are good up and down the east coast.

Off topic : I do think the rental car policy of charging a DAILY fee for entire rental for the privilege of using their transponder or plate pass despite the fact that most renters only need it for a short amount of time is one of the biggest consumer rip offs.
In this case, the plate alone would not have worked as the transponder has a "switch" that allows you to indicate how many people are in the vehicle. If just one, you pay a toll, but if you have 2 or more people in the vehicle you can set it for "2" and not get charged any toll. So the system is set up to

Step #1: Read the plate on the vehicle.
Step #2: Check the database to see if that vehicle is listed on an account at the time the plate was read. If plate not in system, sent violation to owner.
Step #3: If that plate is on an account, check to see if there is a transponder on the account. If no transponder, charge single-driver use toll to account
Step #4: Check to see if that transponder was read near the vehicle and what was the setting was.
Step #5: If the switch is set to "1" charge single-driver use toll to account. If switch is set to "2" don't charge toll as it is a valid car-pool
 
Mar 20, 2019
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#11
I can't see the point in having a transponder and a transponder reader at all if they are reading your license plates.
The California transponders have a switch the you can set to the number of passengers, so if on a toll road a single driver pays a toll but a car-pool does not. The transponder is the only way for the toll road to know it is a car-pool and the only way a car-pool can avoid the toll.
 
Mar 20, 2019
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#13
When the plates belong to a rental car, the charges will go the rental agency and then they add fees . . .
For both California & EZ-Pass (Illinois) you can add the rental plate to your account and it will supersede the toll going to the rental agency and instead be charged to your personal account.
 
Likes: bignevermo
Mar 20, 2019
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#14
Off topic : I do think the rental car policy of charging a DAILY fee for entire rental for the privilege of using their transponder or plate pass despite the fact that most renters only need it for a short amount of time is one of the biggest consumer rip offs.
I agree Chris! I don't think I wouldn't mind paying the daily fee if it just applied for the one day I had a toll charge instead of the entire week long rental period that I had the vehicle.
 
Sep 26, 2017
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#15
When the plates belong to a rental car, the charges will go the rental agency and then they add fees . . .
Also, if the plates match a transponder in their database, they bill the associated account. At least that's what the Sunpass folks say. Of course down here, we also have readers you drive under at full speed and it picks up your transponder.
 
Likes: VoR61
Jan 6, 2015
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#17
This thread also highlights an approach that has served us well in our travels. "Backups" are always important, and no more so than toll-free routes.

In our planning stages, we make sure to look at alternate routes that do not include tolls. Depending on the time factor, we may choose those routes as some are more scenic.

Not directly about transponders, I know, but it can be beneficial in case a transponder option does not pan out . . .
 

jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
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San Francisco
#18
This thread also highlights an approach that has served us well in our travels. "Backups" are always important, and no more so than toll-free routes.

In our planning stages, we make sure to look at alternate routes that do not include tolls. Depending on the time factor, we may choose those routes as some are more scenic.

Not directly about transponders, I know, but it can be beneficial in case a transponder option does not pan out . . .
This is what I'll be doing with my GPS in the future, VoR. I am not going to put up with the absolute insanity of "cashless tolls" and rental cars and switching on non-existant transponders and adding license plates online which may or may not work, not to mention paying a daily rate whether I use the service or not ... I'm just not gonna go there any more. I may just stop travelling east of the Mississippi altogethter!
 
Jan 6, 2015
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#19
This is what I'll be doing with my GPS in the future, VoR. I am not going to put up with the absolute insanity of "cashless tolls" and rental cars and switching on non-existant transponders and adding license plates online which may or may not work, not to mention paying a daily rate whether I use the service or not ... I'm just not gonna go there any more. I may just stop travelling east of the Mississippi altogethter!
Thank you. One really has to know how the applicable toll plazas work. In our area, we have one that accepts credit cards at night when the plaza is "unmanned". Other cities take pictures of the plate and will mail (USPS) you a bill. This becomes problematic for rental cars.

Our logic for rentals is to 1) avoid tolls where we can, or 2) get the rental transponder if we will be passing through toll plazas often (e.g. for business).

Our last trip took us to the Upper Peninsula. Locating/understanding the toll plazas was a bit difficult, but in the end cash worked. There was one on 1-94 and one at the North end of the bridge from Mackinaw City to points North.

All that said, I agree that it can complicated to obtain/setup transponders as well. Choose what works for you and/or the situation . . .
 
Jan 6, 2015
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#20
Additional note: one thing that was very helpful to us: asking the hotel(s) about the need for a transponder in the rental. They will often listen to you "routing", and advise as to where the tolls are. Seems I remember we did that for Mackinaw City . . .