Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bridge toll differentials are legal in NYC

Every few years, someone sues the State of New York over the bridge and highway tolls, which sometimes charge motorists different amounts of money depending on where you live. These cases are brought under the U.S. Constitution. The Court of Appeals usually finds that these toll disparities are legal.

The case is Janes v. Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, decided on December 24, a mere two weeks after the case was argued. If you drive over the Triborough Bridge from Staten Island, the Rockaway Peninsula and Broad Channel Island, you pay less than the other suckers who have to throw money out the window (into the toll basket) from other locales. Other bridges also provide for similar resident discounts.

Plaintiffs invoke the constitutional right to travel and the dormant Commerce Clause. The right to travel is an interesting legal theory that does not actually appear in the Constitution; the Supreme Court says it's an implied right. As for the dormant Commerce Clause, that may be the least interesting constitutional doctrine, and let's leave it at that.

Cutting through the complex constitutional doctrines, on the right to travel, the Second Circuit (Wesley, Hall and Cabranes) says that when the toll differentials "amount[] only to a minor restriction on travel, the courts will not carefully scrutinize the government's reasons for them. Under the legal standard, "the permissibility of fees charged for the use of state facilities is evaluated under three prongs, which ask whether the fee (1) is based on some fair approximation of use of the facilities, (2) is not excessive in relation to the benefits conferred, and (3) does not discriminate against interstate commerce.” The toll differentials do not violate this standard. The differentials are not that huge, and the tolls are used to defray the cost of bridges and "the facilities of a large integrated transportation system, the operation of which facilitates interstate travel." And, as a practical matter, no one has been meaningfully dissuaded from traveling interstate because of these tolls.

As the dormant Commerce Clause analysis is similar to the right to travel analysis , the case is dismissed.

No comments: