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Antitrust Battle Over Car Toll-Payment App

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) - The dominant company in the rental car toll-processing market is trying to "bully and intimidate" a competitor that provides a cheaper service, the company claims in court.

The defendant Highway Toll Administration (HTA) controls "more than 80 percent of the market share" of the business, plaintiff BancPass claims in its Oct. 29 lawsuit in Travis County Court.

Austin-based BancPass competes with HTA through its downloadable smartphone application PToll.

BancPass claims, among other things, that HTA tortiously interfered with its business by pressuring Apple and Google to remove PToll from their app stores - a request with which Google allegedly complied, briefly.

PToll customers can pay tolls using their smartphones by taking photos of their license plates and then choosing a payment method, analogous to having a "tag" or "pass" issued by a tolling authority.

HTA contracts directly with rental car companies and uses two methods: radio-frequency identification toll tags, and registration of rental car license plate numbers. HTA says on its website that it is "the largest provider of toll services for the rental car industry ... we handle the tolling interests of more than 1.7 million vehicles."

But BancPass claims: "Apparently not content with controlling over 80 percent of the market, defendant HTA has now unlawfully taken steps intended to eliminate BancPass as a competitor altogether. Specifically, HTA has tortiously interfered with BancPass's relationships with Google and Apple, by contacting them and insisting they both remove the PToll app from their app stores. This strategy temporarily succeeded, when Google briefly removed PToll from the Google Play Store."

The lawsuit continues: "HTA has also contacted tolling authorities seeking to prevent BancPass from being able to compete, and has threatened further actions against BancPass, including legal accusations that BancPass technology tortiously interferes with HTA's contracts with rental car companies and between rental car companies and their customers, despite the fact that the E-Toll solution HTA provides is an optional accessory for customers renting a car."

BancPass claims that HTA's tortious interference includes its contacting tolling authorities such as the Central Texas Mobile Agency in Travis County, and the Texas Department of Transportation. It claims that HTA complained of "TXDOT's processing of tolls for BancPass customers."

BancPass claims that HTA said it would not stop its fight against BancPass until BancPass "agreed to abandon the rental car tolling market to HTA."

BancPass seeks a declaration that rental car customers "have the option under their rental agreements to choose how they wish to pay tolls, including the use of PToll" and a determination that "an agreement not to market PToll to rental car users" would violate the Sherman Act and Texas Free Enterprise and Antitrust Act.

It also seeks actual and punitive damages for tortious interference with contract, plus costs.

It is represented by Thomas Fulkerson with Fulkerson Lotz, of Houston.

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