The Tobin Bridge switched to all-electronic tolling this week, which means that drivers who travel over the bridge must either pay with an E-ZPass transponder, or have the fee charged to the address registered to their license plate number.
Now, many fretful drivers are wondering, what happens now when you drive a rental car over the bridge? Is the bill sent to the rental company, and does the driver get away without paying a toll?
The short answer: In your dreams. Rental car companies have already figured this problem out — and they certainly won’t be the ones stuck with the bill.
The details vary slightly between companies, but here’s the general gist: They offer E-ZPasses to customers for a per-diem rate, the same as they do if a driver wants a GPS device to accompany them on their journey.
Hertz charges $4.95 per day for the E-ZPass, while Enterprise charges $3.95 per day, according to customer service representatives for the company. The toll charges are billed to the customer. Sometimes, those charges are settled when the car is returned to the rental center. In other cases, the fee is paid weeks later, either in a bill mailed to the customer or an automatic charge to the customer’s credit card.
Vehicles rented in the Boston region through Zipcar, the popular pay-by-the-hour car rental service, are almost all equipped with E-ZPass transponders. Once Zipcar gets an invoice for the fees owed from the trip, they bill that same amount to members’ accounts.
“There’s no surcharge for using the passes — we’ll just bill your account for the actual toll amount,” the company’s website says. “Please note that it can take up to 3 weeks for toll charges to come in, so you will be billed separately from your reservation.”
But what happens if you opt out of the rental company’s E-ZPass, or you drive an out-of-state rental car that does not offer transponders? If your name is not affiliated with the car’s registration, will it ever reach you?
According to Michael Verseckes, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, “pay-by-plate” invoices are typically directed to the rental company. Then, the company has a maximum of 30 days to provide contact information for the customer who incurred the charges; a new invoice will be sent to that customer.
Renters can also fill out a “Rental/Lease Company Transaction Reassignment” form that preemptively transfers the responsibility for the car’s tolls to the person who is renting the vehicle.
In either of those cases, the company may tack on an extra fee — a fee that is likely much more sizeable than the extra $1 that everyone must pay now if they cross the Tobin without an E-ZPass.
Still, paying a rental company’s daily fee for an E-ZPass transponder can feel like you’re being taken for a ride (no pun intended), especially when you can get a transponder free in the mail when you register for an E-ZPass account.
Which brings us to a final, take-the-bull-by-the-horns option: Order your own E-ZPass, then add the rental car’s registration information onto your account. The only catch is that you must remove the rental car from the account within 48 hours after it is returned to the rental company.
Or, as one reader suggested, here’s another idea: Take a different route over the harbor.Martine Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.