Zipcar drivers pulled over, E-ZPasses confiscated

Zip car lanes
Zipcar members in New York passing through tolls had their E-ZPasses confiscated after the car sharing company had problems with the payment for its E-ZPass bill. Ben Popken

Zipcar members had to hit the brakes after the company didn't pay its E-Zpass bill on time Friday, turning all of the E-ZPasses in the New York fleet into hard stops.

Customers only found out about the payment snafu when they were forced to pull over across several lanes of traffic and have their E-ZPasses confiscated.

"You're my hundredth Zipcar!" said one MTA Bridge and Tunnel officer as he wrote a Zipcar member a violation notice at the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge toll plaza on Sunday. "They shouldn't have done that to you."

"It was really dangerous," said Heather Viggani, a 27-year old editorial assistant, who was on her way to her nephew's birthday party Saturday on Staten Island when her E-ZPass transponder showed up as unfunded at the Hugh L. Carey toll plaza in Brooklyn. An MTA officer directed her to pull across seven lanes of cars exiting the toll gates to the side of the road. There she waited for 20 minutes, along with four other Zipcars with the same issue.

"There were a million people honking at me."

EZ pass violation
One of the E-Zpass violations handed out over the weekend to Zipcar members. Ben Popken

While some customers were inconvenienced, "We don't want people to use a bad tag that doesn't have money on it," said MTA spokeswoman Judie Glave. 

"From time to time this happens with corporate accounts and private accounts," said Glave. Sometimes, she said, "It's as easy as someone has replaced a credit card and it expires and they forget to give a new expiration date."

Zipcar vice president Andrew Kupiec said the company learned of a payment problem with its E-ZPass account on Friday. After Zipcar took steps to fix the issue, it received a fax that its payment went through, only to discover Saturday that it hadn't been processed. Because it happened over the weekend, the corrected payment wasn't confirmed until early Monday. 

Due to a 24-hour turnaround period, until Tuesday Zipcar members using cars picked up in New York should bring cash for tolls rather than rely on the fast pass.

The car sharing service didn't alert customers over the weekend before they showed up at the toll gates, said Kupiec, because "we wanted to balance what we knew versus spreading uncertain information to those unimpacted."

Kupiec said Zipcar is taking steps to ensure the "unfortunate situation" never happens again.

"There will be redundant backup plans if it's something as simple as an expiration date," said Kupiec.

The Avis-owned car sharing service is offering full reservation refunds for affected customers as well as compensation for any fines paid.

The gesture is welcome, but may not be enough for some members burned by the experience.

"It was my first time using Zipcar," said Amanda Art, a 37-year-old social media manager who was in the middle of moving from Manhattan to Brooklyn when she was pulled over and the E-Zpass tag in her Zipcar confiscated. "I don't know if I'll use it again."

Contact Ben Popken, via @bpopken, or follow