December 2022


The Main Maine Problem

Back in November I took a week long vacation to Maine and Boston with a friend.

We didn’t need a car for the Boston part of the trip, but the Maine portion need one. After landing in Boston, we got our rental car and headed north – it was a real shitty red Honda Civic, undesirable on two levels: first, because it was red; second because the road noise was VERY LOUD.

Fortunately the “Low Tire Pressures” light came on shortly after we entered Maine – meaning that we could justify swapping cars when visiting a Maine branch of our car rental company.

Before renting the car, I knew that we would be driving on the New Hampshire and Maine Toll Roads, but not a lot. From Boston to our hotel we could pay $2 to New Hampshire in cash, then $4 to Maine in cash. For our couple of days driving around Maine, I figured we would spend no more than $8 more – a trip up the coast, a trip to Augusta, and that’s it.

Clearly it made much more sense to pay these tolls in cash than to pay $14.99/day for an EZPass enabled car that would have allowed us to go through the EZPass lanes and never worry about the tolls.

Arrival day went fine: our plane was early, immigration a breeze (even for non-citizens), the car rental center was empty, and we were rapidly on the road north. We paid our tolls without any issue and then checked into our hotel.

After a quick shower and cleaning up, we stopped by the Portland Airport’s car rental company and swapped the car in less than five minutes – our new car was a white Kia of some kind – forgettable in that there was nothing wrong with it and it was a color that would not attract the attention of police.

The next morning we went to drive on the toll road – $1 – but the collector wasn’t there, so there was a sign telling us to go to a website and pay, or to call in. We paid a subsequent $1 toll without any issues and headed off to the Maine Maritime Museum – which I can heartily recommend. Given that I, normally, do not give a rat’s ass about ships and other nautical type things, I can honestly say that this is a most excellent museum worth visiting. I think we were there for over two hours.

Alas, I was in a race, in a way, to pay the toll before it got sent back to the car rental company – because I was sure it would trigger an expensive bill, even if I only owed $1. (For reference, because I missed paying a 2€ toll to enter Jūrmala, Latvia, I ended up paying 86,30€: 50€ for the infraction, 30€ administrative fee from the car rental company, and 6,30 VAT.)

Sunday night I tried to pay online – only to learn that because the car was already registered with EZPass, I couldn’t pay online.

Monday afternoon I reached a human being after being on hold for a long time – only to learn that the violation wasn’t in the system yet and that it could take 48 hours to process the photographs of miscreants like me.

Tuesday morning, I reached another human who told me it wasn’t in the system, but that she could take $1 from me anyway to help prevent the fine.

Tuesday afternoon, I got an email back saying that the charge had already been picked up by the car rental company’s account.

I did not, alas, get a $1 refund.

I did get hit with a rather modest (less than $10) charge for the toll road usage – much less than if I had paid for the device up front, which surprised me. Had it actually been a significant charge I would have protested up the wazoo – but at some point my time is worth money.

Which gets to another truth: I enjoyed my vacation in Maine – even if we were a couple weeks too late for the fall colors.

However, I see no point in returning to Maine: the other Portland – in Oregon – is in a state without any toll roads in the parts I like to visit. I like Lobster Rolls, but I can get them in Boston – where I do not need to rent a car.

Just some food for thought.

2 comments to The Main Maine Problem

  • Chris Cargill

    Amusingly, I’ve not once received a traffic infraction in a red car, despite now having owned three. I did receive a ticket in my blue car, and in two different white cars.

    As you discovered, US rental car and public agencies are not nearly as ruinous to a bank account for the sin of not having an electronic toll tag, as you’ve experienced in Europe.

    Something to consider if your rental car trips in the eastern and mid-western US routinely have tolled route possibilities, is to acquire an EZ-Pass, then travel with it. There is an acquisition fee for the device, then you link it to a credit card, and set the replenishment amount at a level you’re comfortable with. I think the minimum is $35. When you arrive, you’d link it to the rental car you have before leaving the lot, and make sure to un-link it in the rental lot when you return it to avoid others using it.

    Link to states which use EZ-Pass:

    I still have my California toll tag (Fastrak), which I take with me when I travel there. My trips generally require at least one $7 toll charge to get to the airport, along with the option in some areas to buy a faster rate of travel if traffic is backing up as I travel to and from the city.

    There was a supposed to be a nationwide solution by now, but bureaucracy.

  • Given that this is the first time since August 2018 that I’ve interacted with toll roads in the USA, I see no point in buying and storing my own EZPass. When I am in Indiana, I am far away from the tollroad — and I cannot think of another EZPass state that I visit regularly and drive in.

    YOur EZPass strategy would have semi-failed because the car we drove was already in the EZPass system, so I don’t see how I could have overlaid a personal one on top of the car rental firm’s pass.

    I should note that with respect to my Jūrmala, Latvia, experience could not have been resolved with an EZPass type thing — you either pay it as you enter or you pay online — the problem is that I never knew that I was entering anything, in large part because we entered it from an irregular angle and because we were behind a bus that blocked a lot of the signage….