Rental Car Companies Turn In Own Customers To Photo Ticket Firm
At least four of the country’s top rental car firms sell information on their customers to a photo enforcement firm. American Traffic Solutions and its subsidiary, ATS Processing Services, signed contracts through which Avis, Budget, Hertz and Advantage agreed to hand over information on renters so that ATS can collect extra money on photo tickets.
A California motorist, who asked to remain anonymous, found this out the hard way when his rented Toyota was accused on August 24, 2009 of traveling at 55 MPH on Interstate 295/395 near 9th Street in Washington, DC. The limit at this freeway location is just 40 MPH. Even though the driver believed the $50 ticket was issued in error, his credit card was automatically billed $30 pursuant to the small print in his rental car contract. The driver learned that the District’s photo radar tickets were not valid when two vehicles are visible in the violation photo and decided to contest the fine by written declaration. He won.
“The examiner determined that the ticket should be dismissed for one of the following reasons: there was an error on the ticket, the government was unable to establish the violation or the evidence submitted was sufficient to prove a defense to the violation,” the District Department of Motor Vehicles examiner ruled on May 16.
Despite the victory on the $50 ticket, the motorist now had to fight ATS to get his $30 “processing fee” back. Frequent business travelers who rent cars complain that they are often billed in error for photo tickets, parking tickets and toll road tickets that pass through ATS.
“They are hoping that a large number of people won’t even notice the $30 charge, or will simply accept it,” one user of the flyertalk.com forum wrote last year. “Then, by making it so onerous to get the charge reversed they hope more people will just give up. They hire minimal customer service staff, so their costs must be next to nothing. It doesn’t take many $30 charges to turn a tidy profit.”
ATS defends the $30 fee by claiming it covers a number of real costs associated with processing all municipal violations issued to the rental car company.
“The administration fee covers the cost associated with data entering each citation document, identifying the renter of the vehicle at the time the violation occurred, printing and bank fees incurred with billing and collecting fine amounts from renters, as well as the administrative costs of writing and mailing checks to ticket issuers before the citation due date,” the ATS website explains.
In the case of Washington, DC, ATS also happens to be the “ticket issuer” — the company that runs the photo radar program — meaning the firm collects $80 instead of just $50 from every Avis, Budget, Hertz or Advantage customer photographed.
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Isn't this sort of thing illegal? Not that breaking laws ever stopped people like this (and police departments, dmv, insurance companies) but still...
I've rented a car about a dozen times in the 38 (Yikes)years I've been driving, and the experiences have been either very bad, or very good, depending on the rental company. Budget was the worst. The first time I tried to rent a car, they wouldn't do it because I was too young. I should have taken the hint, and never gone back. About 5 years later, I was out of town and my car died (Power steering went out and howled like my cat did when angered) Friday night, just after the dealer closed. I took it to an independent shop down the street, and they said they could do it, but wouldn't be able to get the parts from anywhere until Monday, so I left it, and my choices were to either go to Budget, or walk all the way down the road to the Hertz place. I went with Budget, since my dog was with me, and he was old and it was hot out. The guy and girl inside the place were hostile, and very slow to wait on me. After we looked over the car and noted all the scratches and dents and stain on the rear seat, I drove off, and quickly realized they had sprayed something in the car that was causing me to have problems breathing (probably like Fabreeze, stuff I think should be outlawed as a toxic substance), so I went back to get another car. The girl was even more hostile than before, and she had enough perfume on that she was making my eyes water up just talking to her. The second car had severely warped rotors, but was tolerable. I came back on Monday afternoon, when my car was done, and the manager waited on me. He said they were charging me $100 to clean up my dog's mess in the back of the first car. Well, I went off, and told him I was only in the car 10 minutes, my dog had no bladder issues, and the stain was clearly noted in my inspection sheet. He said no, my dog had peed on the seat, and it was going to be $100. I finally convinced him to go out with me and look at the car, which had a dark stain about the size of a basketball on the rear seat. I rubbed my fingers on it, and smelled it, and he said, "What the hell are you doing?" I told him I was trying to figure out what it really was, and I said, "Unless my dog is peeing GRAPE JUICE, it's not pee on the seat!" He sniffed his fingers too, agreed it was grape juice, and I told him if he didn't take the charge off now, I would be calling the main office, disputing the charge on my card, and calling the local TV station to see if the consumer reporter had any complaints about his place possibly doing crap like this before. He got very nice after that. The next time Hertz got me. I was in Florida, in the Panama City area, visiting relatives and the car I was supposed to be able to use was dead, the transmission went out, so I went to Hertz, again, not far away from where my cousin lived. I wanted a Mustang, but wound up with a Taurus. It was either that or a Windstar, so I took the Taurus. It was nearly new, so there wasn't much to note on the sheet. I went out to dinner with my cousin and her family, and took her oldest daughter home afterwards. She wanted me to fix her PC. She lived about 20 miles away from her parents, and her PC issue only took about 15 minutes to fix. I got in the car, got about 5 miles down the road, and it died. Nothing. No clicks, anything. I called the roadside assistance number, and they said they would send a tow truck out right away. Right away was almost 2 hours later, and after an hour of waiting at the office, I ended up with the Windstar anyway, a beige number, with an alignment issue, and warped rotors. I complained when I turned it in, and they weren't interested. When I had a car die that I had rented from Enterprise, they were there in 20 minutes with another car, gave me the new one and sent me on my way, and the guy who brought it waited for the tow truck. I got a few bucks knocked off for my delays, and I was very happy. At this point, if/when I need to rent a car, it will be from National (are they still around?), Enterprise, and Avis, the three I've had no issues with. The others can go away for all I care.