SCHUMER ANNOUNCES LEGISLATION PROTECTING GRAND ISLANDS RESIDENTIAL TOLL DISCOUNTS ON GRAND ISLAND BRIDGES
Schumer Legislation Comes As Yet Another Federal Case, This Time in Rhode Island, Challenges Essential Residential Discount Programs
Legislation Protects Discounts for 18,000 Grand Island Residents on Grand Island Bridges; Island-Locked Grand Island Residents Depend on Discounts for Reasonable Daily Commute
Schumer: Grand Islanders Leave Island and Pay Tolls on Daily Basis for Work and More, This Discount Program is Absolutely Essential and Fair
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that he is reintroducing legislation protecting the residential discount programs for Grand Island residents on the Grand Island bridges. The Residential and Commuter Toll Fairness Act of 2011 provides express Congressional authorization for local governments to issue or grant transportation toll, user fee or fare discount programs based on residential status. The legislation, which was originally introduced in 2009 and passed the House by a unanimous vote, came in response to a court case challenging toll discounts in upstate New York. Last week, a judge in Rhode Island announced he would issue a written ruling on a case that could strike down a similar toll discount program. As the number of cases continues to grow, Schumer said the legislation is more necessary than ever to ward off similar suits that could invalidate the toll discount programs on Grand Island.
"Grand Islanders leave the Island and pay tolls on a daily basis for work and more, and without residential toll discounts this would be a huge financial burden," Schumer said. "With no other way to drive off the Island except via bridges and their tolls, Grand Islanders deserve a break, and through this legislation we can guarantee that these fair and essential residential discount programs will hold up in court."
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 numerous travel options.
There are 18,000 residents of Grand Island. These New Yorkers have limited options to leave the island. The four Grand Island bridges each cost 1$ toll for nonresidents, and 9 cents for Grand Island residents. If this residential discount program didn't exist, residents of the Island would face a massive and burdensome increase in toll rates. Currently an Island resident who commutes back and forth from the Island every week day for work would spend $23.40 on tolls per year. If the residential toll discount were eliminated, that same commuter would suddenly face a toll burden of $260, a more than tenfold increase of $236.60.
In court cases across the country, plaintiffs are alleging that the discount fare programs are unconstitutional. Last week, a judge in Rhode Island announced he would be ruling on a classaction suit accusing the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority of violating the constitution by giving Rhode Island residents who cross the Pell Bridge that connects to Newport and Jamestown with a toll discount. Schumer originally introduced his legislation in response to Selevan v. New York Thruway Authority, a case in the Second Circuit of the US Court of Appeals, that alleges that toll discounts for New York residents living in towns bordering the New York Thruway are unconstitutional.
Schumer noted that 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 communities that have no other way of accessing those communities other than through a means that requires them to pay a toll.
The Residential and Commuter Toll Fairness Act of 2011 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.