Residents of New York City's outer boroughs have often felt like second class citizens for a variety of reasons. As if they needed yet another validation of their diminished status, folks in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx are faced with hefty surcharges when renting cars in certain locations.
I'd heard rumors of this for quite some time, but it hit home recently when a good friend of mine who lives in Queens rented a car through AutoSlash. As is usually the case, we were able to get him a great rate, so I was surprised when I received a call from him while picking up the car from Dollar at LaGuardia airport.
He claimed that while the base rate was what we had quoted him, Dollar insisted on tacking on a surcharge of $11 per day because he was a Queens resident. When he had challenged the counter rep, she told him to be thankful that he didn't live in Brooklyn or the Bronx, or the surcharge could have been as high as $55 per day!
My friend left with his rental car, but was clearly annoyed at the policy. I certainly don't blame him. I decided to investigate the matter further to see how prevalent this practice was in the industry. Here's what I found...
Hertz and Alamo used to charge a surcharge for residents of certain boroughs, but have since stopped this practice. We could not find any evidence of Enterprise, National, Avis or Budget ever levying a surcharge. Kudos to the reformers as well as the companies who had the good sense to refrain from this discriminatory practice in the first place.
At Dollar and Thrifty however, this practice appears to be commonplace today. Here's an excerpt from Dollar and Thrifty's General Policies document on their website:
New York Resident Surcharges: Higher rental rates for New York City (Brooklyn, Bronx, and Queens) residents renting in New York, Newark, NJ, and Philadelphia may apply as follows;
- For Brooklyn residents the rates will be $55 higher per day.
- For Bronx residents the rates will be $53 higher per day.
- For Queens residents the rates will be $11 higher per day.
They offer no official explanation for the fees on their website, but the counter rep stated to my friend that certain boroughs were more dangerous than others, hence the fees. This seems a bit odd since someone from Minneapolis renting at LGA would be driving in the same dangerous boroughs as the local Queens resident. Would he or she be less likely to cause damage or have their rental car stolen?
Maybe the Dollar rep meant that relatively speaking, people in Queens are more dangerous (or more likely to steal or wreck a car) than those in Manhattan or Staten Island? From the relative surcharges, one could conclude that someone from Brooklyn was 5X more dangerous than someone from Queens.
Is it really true that New York is such a dangerous place? I've lived here all my life and have rarely had a problem. What if we compare New York vs. another city such as Los Angeles? Well as it turns out, Los Angeles has a much higher crime rate than NYC according to the statistics. Even Tulsa, OK, the headquarters for Dollar-Thrifty eclipses NYC by a wide margin. Last I checked, there was no surcharge for Tulsa residents renting locally.
Both Hertz and Avis Budget are currently trying to acquire Dollar Thrifty. One can only hope that regardless of which suitor eventually wins this contest, that they will have the presence of mind to end this discriminatory practice. Otherwise, residents of NYC boroughs like Brooklyn may just Fuhgeddaboudt Dollar Thrifty entirely.