S.F. Calls Hertz’s Golden Gate Pass a Rip-Off

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The City of San Francisco claims in a new lawsuit that Hertz scams unsuspecting Bay Area customers and tourists with steep “toll service” fees for crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.

“Rather than Hertz putting you in the driver’s seat, they’re taking their customers to the cleaners,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement Thursday.

The city’s lawsuit, filed Wednesday in San Francisco Superior Court, says Hertz misleads customers about its so-called optional PlatePass service, a feature enabled in every Hertz car since 2009 that allows drivers to bypass cash toll lanes.

Though the Golden Gate Bridge went cashless four years ago, customers still cannot decline PlatePass when they book a car with Hertz.

“Over the past four years, tens of thousands of Hertz customers have unwittingly paid millions of dollars in PlatePass fees for the simple act of crossing the Golden Gate Bridge,” the city says in its lawsuit.

After crossing the bridge just once, Hertz charges drivers $4.95 a day as a “service fee” for each day of the rental, capped at $24.75, even if the driver never crosses the bridge again.

On top of this, the city claims Hertz charges drivers the maximum bridge toll even though Hertz customers are supposed to receive a $1 discount.

“[B]y simply driving over the Golden Gate Bridge a single time, as millions of tourists do each year, each Hertz customer is charged not only the undiscounted toll rate, but up to $24.75 in fees,” the city says in the lawsuit. “These practices are not only unfair; they are unlawful.”

Hertz also collects customers’ credit or debit card information and passes it along to American Traffic Solutions, its business partner and co-defendant. ATS pays the tolls, then charges the customer’s card between one and three weeks after the car is returned. Hertz never discloses the PlatePass fees on customers’ receipts.

The city demands an injunction to put a stop to the fees, a court order forcing Hertz and its partners to pay customers restitution, and $2,500 for each violation of the California Business and Professions Code.

“I am not going sit back and allow one of the largest rental car companies on the planet to take advantage of a world-renowned San Francisco icon to rip off thousands of California visitors and residents,” Herrera said. “This lawsuit is designed to put a stop to this illegal scheme and force the companies involved to pay their victims back.”

Hertz spokeswoman Karen Drake said the company does not comment on pending litigation.