Big Government, Taxes, Fees and Fake Corporate Environmentalism: or, How I Chose Budget Truck Rental instead of U-Haul

We’re preparing to move out of my Sacramento apartment so I went online to check rates to rent a small truck.

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I first checked U-Haul; they have a great brand name and I’ve used them before. The cost to rent a 10 foot truck from Sacramento to Irvine: $219. It all seemed pretty straightforward – until I started to complete the online contract. In addition to the $219, U-Haul suggested I buy some insurance for $60, saying that most car insurance policies don’t cover rental trucks, unlike rental cars. OK, reasonable enough. Then I came to a $5 “Environmental Fee” payable at the store.

“Environmental Fee?!?” I thought. I clicked on the link to explain this unexpected fee and U-Haul treated me to a rambling eight paragraph paean to their environmental consciousness, saying, in part, “For more than 60 years, the U-Haul Companies have provided an economical, sustainable and environmentally friendly means for families to move to a better future.” And that “sharing” trucks rather than buying one for the average family’s twice a decade move reduces “hundreds of thousands of tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.” And “With 15,000 locations across the United States and Canada, U-Haul truck sharing helps to reduce the carbon footprint of many local communities.” So far, the $5 fee hadn’t been explained – I was on the edge of my seat for the punch line – until finally, in the last paragraph: “The Customer money collected as an environmental fee is expended to reduce the negative impact of our business on future generations. Aerodynamic fuel saving truck skirts, the fuel economy gauge, storage re-use centers, environmentally friendly truck wash soap, are examples of where these funds go.”

Ahh, I see.

Except that it’s a line of B.S. meant to make the customer feel better about forking over another $5 to U-Haul for the good cause of the environment – a fee I didn’t recall paying the last time I rented from U-Haul.

I jumped over to Budget’s website to rent a truck. Not only was the rental fee only $184.45 for the same size of truck, Budget wasn’t playing quite the same game with the extra fee. They listed a $3 per day “Cost Recovery fee.” Now I this seemed a bit more honest, if mundane and less helpful to Mother Nature. I clicked on the link to explain the fee. The link explained, in a solitary matter-of-fact paragraph, that the fee was designed to recover vehicle license fees, taxes, environmental fees and the like.

I still wasn’t thrilled that the price quoted online wasn’t the actual price. I smelled the hands of big business working with big government and, sure enough, a few clicks on the web later, I found AB 2592 of 2006, a bill I voted against on the last day of session that year (no doubt, near the midnight deadline as most bad or controversial bills have a tendency to do). The bill passed the Assembly 68 to 8 and the Senate 37 to 3. It was promoted by the rental car companies. In short, it allows them to break out their fees and taxes from the actual rental charge, essentially advertising the basic rate, then adding the fees on afterward.

Of course, the more interesting thing to note was how Budget Truck Rental dealt with AB 2592 with a short, explanatory paragraph vs. how U-Haul dealt with it in eight paragraphs of feel-good environmental gobbledygook.

It reminds me of another corporate attempt to be green on the backs of their consumers. PG and E, Northern California’s government-protected electric monopoly, has a program called “Climate Smart” that encourages its ratepayers to plunk down more green every month (about $5) on their electric bill to be green. The money goes to buy carbon offsets in forests that are managed exactly the same way they’ve always been – hence, accomplishing nothing at all in the real world, other than transferring some dollars from a few gullible people to environmental hucksters who happen to be friends with PG and E.

Rather than play games, perhaps PG and E should use the money to inspect their natural gas pipelines a little more frequently. Or, better yet, invest in more modern nuclear power plants so we can really reduce our reliance on carbon-based fuels such as coal and natural gas.

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