NYC-Area Toll Pricing Isn't Discriminatory
MANHATTAN (CN) - Toll discounts for certain New York residents crossing certain bridges are not unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled.
In February 2006 three New Jersey residents and a Queens resident filed a class action against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, its chief Jay Walder; and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, as well as its chief James Ferrara.
They challenged the constitutionality of the agency's policy to offer E-ZPass users living on Staten Island, the Rockaways and Broad Channel discounts on crossing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge and the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge.
U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer disagreed Wednesday, however, that the agencies restricted the right to travel.
"The tolls on the bridges here are not, in an absolute sense, so high as to constitute more than a minor burden on travel," Engelmayer wrote.
Riva Janes and the other plaintiffs "have not demonstrated that such a toll presents more than a minor restriction on travel," the judge added.
Because the Verrazano is the longest suspension bridge in the United States, "a higher charge for use of such a facility, in one of the most expensive cities in the world, is not unreasonable," the decision states. "It does not shock the conscience."
Staten Island residents who use the E-ZPass pay $6.36 per trip across the Verrazano, which connects Staten Island with Brooklyn. Nonresidents with an E-ZPass pay $10.66. Staten Islanders who do not use the E-ZPass system pay $8.53, while nonresidents without an E-ZPass pay $15.
For residents of the Rockaways and Broad Channel, the tolls over both the Marine Parkway Bridge and the Cross bay Bridge are $1.31 for those residents using an E-ZPass. A nonresident using an E-ZPass pays $2. Residents who pay cash pay $1.79, while non-residents who pay cash pay $2.50.
"Plaintiffs point to no case, within this circuit or beyond, in which a differential toll policy has been held in an 'invidious distinction' so as to require application of strict scrutiny," Engelmayer wrote. "Instead, in every case of this type, courts have held that a differential toll policy does not violate the right to travel."
Englemayer had caught the case after U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones certified the class in October 2011. Last year, he narrowed the scope of that class because it was so broad that it included dead people.
In his final order, Englemayer found that the class failed to show, "by any measure or metric, a significant effect on interstate travel so as to merit application of strict scrutiny or a serious basis to believe that the policy meaningfully implicates out-of-staters' fundamental right to travel.
"To the contrary, the plaintiffs admitted in discovery that, for the most part, the undiscounted toll rates have not prevented them from traveling those very routes," Engelmayer wrote.