Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand introduced legislation protecting the residential discount programs on the Verrazano-Narrows, Cross Bay, Goethals, and Bayonne Bridges and the Outerbridge Crossing. The Residential and Commuter Toll Fairness Act of 2009, introduced in the House by Representative McMahon, seeks to provide clarification of the existing authority of, and where necessary to provide express Congressional authorization for, local governments to issue or grant transportation toll, user fee or fare discount programs based on residential status. The legislation comes in response to a recent decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in the case Selevan v. New York Thruway Authority, which reinstated the case in NY’s Northern District that alleges that toll discounts for New York residents of towns bordering the New York Thruway are unconstitutional.
“Staten Islanders have amongst the longest and most expensive commutes in the entire country; they have no other sure-fire way to get on and off the island but via bridges with sky-high tolls, and I will fight to ensure they continue to receive these essential residential discount rates that protect them from obscene tolls,” Schumer said. “Discounts are fair and sensible policy and must be preserved. With this new legislation, it will be clear that residential discount programs are not only fair, but constitutional and essential.”
“This residential discount is not only fair, but essential for commuters during these tough economic times,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Staten Island families are the only New York City residents who have no subway access to the rest of the city and must rely on toll roads to drive off the Island. This program alleviates the financial burden of the long and expensive commute that Staten Island and many Queens residents are forced to bear, and I will work with Senator Schumer and Congressman McMahon to ensure it continues.”
“I commend Senator Schumer for introducing this important legislation in the Senate” said Congressman Michael E. McMahon (D-Staten Island/Brooklyn, NY) who introduced H.R. 3960, The Residential and Commuter Toll Fairness Act, in the House of Representatives on October 28, 2009. “Preserving residential toll discounts is critical to my constituents who suffer the highest toll burdens in the nation, and for people around the country who are forced to pay unreasonable tolls and fares.” said Congressman McMahon. “I look forward to working with Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand to get this important bill signed into law” McMahon added.
Many residents across the country are forced to pay tolls to access certain highways, bridges, rails, buses, ferries, and other transportation systems. The revenue generated from these tolls is used to support infrastructure maintenance and improvement projects that not only benefit the users of the transportation systems, but the regional and national systems as well. But certain commuters, such as those who live on islands and peninsulas, are forced to endure significant toll burdens when compared with commuters who have many travel options. For example, the residents of Staten Island have very few options to leave the island. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge costs travelers $11, the highest toll in the United States. Without the residential toll discount program, many Staten Islanders would be forced to deal with the severe financial burden of having to pay the toll whenever they wanted to travel off the island.
To address this inequality, and to reduce the significant financial hardship imposed on these commuters, many state and local governments implanted programs to issue or grant discounted tolls, user fees, or fares to these residents. But court cases, such as the Selevan case and a similar case in Massachusetts, which challenge toll discounts, are alleging that the discount fare programs are unconstitutional. Transportation toll discount programs that are based on residential status do not discriminate against those individuals who do not receive these discounts, but instead address actual unequal and undue financial burdens placed on residents of certain jurisdictions that have no other way of accessing those areas other than through a means that requires them to pay a toll.
The Residential and Commuter Toll Fairness Act of 2009 provides clarification of the existing authority of local governments to issue or grant transportation toll, user fee or fare discount programs based on residential status. It also provides Congressional authorization for discount programs.
Congressman Michael McMahon introduced The Residential and Commuter Toll Fairness Act of 2009 in the House of Representatives last month.