Daily rental firms in central London are cautiously optimistic about the impact congestion charging next week will have on their operations. Companies say they believe processes are in place to deal with the increased administrative and logistical burden of the scheme when it launches on Monday.
Neil Cunningham, Hertz UK general manager, said: 'The charging zone is smaller than many people realise and fortunately our two main central London branches – Marble Arch and Victoria – are both outside the charging zone.
'Hertz will be producing a leaflet explaining the charges and what customers have to do if they plan to drive into the central London charging zone. This will be supplemented by information from Transport for London (TfL).'
Brian Jayes, operations director of National Car Rental, said: 'Most car rental companies have formulated their policy regarding congestion charging. We will be communicating our policy to customers shortly and have endeavoured to make it as easy as possible for those who are affected.
'For example, we have decided the congestion charge for the first day of rental will be added to the rental agreement. In this way, customers need only concern themselves with driving across the zone on subsequent days.'
The main problem for rental firms would have come from the burden of having to chase non-payers, but this is a battle that the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) has won with TfL.
Once a non-paying vehicle has been picked up by the cameras and traced back to the rental firm, the rental depot will give TfL the hirer's details and leave it to the authorities to follow up.
BVRLA spokesman Robin Mackonochie, said: 'We have been lobbying to ensure that anybody who does not pay the charge while in a rental car is chased by TfL, not the rental company, which will cut down massively on administration.'
Cunningham added: 'We are lucky because we have one centre in the zone, in Russell Square. We have been relying on the BVRLA to make representations about issues like fixed penalty notices.'
A big problem for rental fleets will be the cost of moving vehicles around to sites in the zone to supply demand. Mackonochie warned there would be a 'significant' on-going cost for daily rental fleets in central London.
He said: 'If a rental firm wants to move vehicles in or out of the zone and avoid the charge they have to do it after 6.30pm. This impacts massively on labour costs such as overtime charges'
Despite a number of gloomy predictions over the past year that the scheme will create a rental wasteland in central London, rental firms claim sites around the edge of the ring could see business flourish.
Cunningham said weekend renters generally hired cars to get away from the capital, rather than go deeper into the centre, and would therefore opt to use a firm outside the charging ring.
As far as most companies are concerned, there is no consensus about charging. Some, such as Hertz and Avis, are including the charge in the original hire cost, though listing it separately. Others are leaving it up to the customer to pay. Mackonochie said: 'It's a commercial decision for members and not something we get involved in.'