The New York City transit system offers residents of Staten Island, the Rockaways, and Broad Channel discounts on the tolls they pay to cross their local bridges, and, in an opinion yesterday, Judge Engelmayer rejected various constitutional challenges to the policy from commuters who don’t get the discounts. For example, he concluded that the policy did not discriminate against interstate commerce:
The toll policies at issue here . . . do not either prohibit or significantly restrict access to the New York marketplace or regulate that marketplace in a burdensome fashion. And plaintiffs fail to adduce evidence of an in-state commercial interest that is favored over an out-of state one.. . . . Further, as to the plaintiffs who commute from out of state, the evidence adduced in discovery demonstrated convincingly that they have not been seriously affected by the tolls in place. And, apart from noting that some out-of-state commuters use the bridges to travel to work, plaintiffs have not pointed to any evidence of commercial harm to out-of-state businesses; indeed, as noted, in-state businesses are ineligible for the discounts. The evidence is quite to the contrary: Defendants’ experts have convincingly demonstrated that the tolls, and the distribution of toll receipts to fortify mass transit in the New York area, have had a strong overall positive impact on interstate commerce. Plaintiffs have not factually refuted that showing. On the summary judgment record, every indication is therefore that the tolls here do not interfere with the natural functioning of the interstate market. . . . Finally, the benign purpose underlying the challenged policies is apparent. The policies are self-evidently motivated by a desire to reduce the burden suffered by geographically isolated New York residents, who have little or no practical access to mass transit. Plaintiffs do not dispute that such was the intention underlying the policy. They instead dispute that instituting differential toll policies, even for such purposes, is constitutionally permissible, dubbing it, “aid[ing the] home team.” But the Supreme Court teaches that, in this area, benign purposes are germane. “The crucial inquiry . . . must be directed to determining whether [the policy] is basically a protectionist measure, or whether it can fairly be viewed as a law directed to legitimate local concerns, with effects upon interstate commerce that are only incidental.” Phila. v. N.J., 437 U.S. at 624.