By on October 12, 2010

The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on September 30 used a loophole to uphold the legality of Massachusetts Turnpike toll road rates that discriminate against most out-of-state drivers. Those participating in the “Fast Lane” program, almost always residents of Massachusetts, receive a 25 cent discount on Allston-Brighton tolls and a 50 cent discount at the Sumner and Ted Williams tunnels. Regular commuters would save between $250 and $500 a year.

Under the federal Constitution’s Commerce Clause, states are prohibited from giving differential treatment to in-state and out-of-state business. Residents of New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts sued the Fast Lane program because they had E-ZPass transponders that did not qualify for the special toll treatment.

“The Fast Lane Discount Program does not discriminate on its own terms. Enrollment in Fast Lane is open to everyone,” Judge Thomas L. Ambro wrote for the three-judge panel. “In this case, the MTA has not limited a benefit solely to residents; rather, it simply offers more competitive toll rates to those individuals, from all states, who choose to enroll in Fast Lane.”

The appellate court did not agree with the plaintiffs that there is little practical difference between directly discriminating against out-of-state residents and using the indirect discount program method.

“While benefits of the FLDP accrue to many residents of Massachusetts, they also accrue to every non-resident participant in the program,” Ambro wrote. “Stated another way, residents of Massachusetts receive no benefit that is not available to non-residents on equal terms.”

The court insisted that there was no significant burden imposed on an out-of-state driver to obtain both E-ZPass and Fast Lane accounts to take advantage of the discounts. The need to “swap and stuff” transponders when crossing state lines to avoid being double-tolled during the journey was found to be a minimal extra burden.

“The fact that more Massachusetts citizens than out-of-state citizens may work in the Boston area, and therefore have a greater incentive to join Fast Lane, does not demonstrate that the program is unconstitutionally discriminatory,” Ambro concluded.

A copy of the decision is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Yerger v. Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (US Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, 10/12/2010)

[Courtesy:thenewspaper.com]

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12 Comments on “Federal Court Upholds Discriminatory Toll Rates...”


  • avatar

    Way to put a slant on this in the headline that isn’t supported by the content.

    I’m a CT resident and have a MA Fast Lane tag. I got it by stopping at their office off the MA pike, but the woman ther asked me flat out why I came in and why I didn’t just apply over the phone and save the trip.
    I have since moved to RI, and changed all my account info online. Then jsut yesterday called for a new transponder keyed to my utility trailer.

    Any claims that this is discriminating against out of state drivers is clearly BS. If you’ve chosen a competeing transponder system, or chosen not to get a transponder that isn’t discrimination, that is simply offering a discount to their customers.

  • avatar
    ash78

    No more discriminatory than occupational taxes, IMO. Plenty of cities have those, especially ones where the workers are mostly commuters from outside the city proper.

  • avatar
    jimbowski

    I just wanted to comment here for the latest Baruth article.  Absolutely fantastic.  Reminds me of staying up all night and then driving from Muncie, IN to Fort Waye, or Indy, or Grissom AFB for autocrossing.  Nothing like breaking speed limits cruising with always at least 3 early 90′s honda/acruras on Indiana highways at 6:30 am.

  • avatar
    mcs

    Most of the cars going through the Allston/Brighton tolls are from Boston’s western suburbs. The cars from NH come down toll free interstate 93 to Boston.

  • avatar
    cackalacka

    Ahh yes. Tolls.
     
    One observation I have to make from my trip to Quebec and back last week.
     
    Delaware, renowned the world over for it’s lax taxation: 9 miles of I-95. Number of tolls: 1
     
    New Hampshire, the closest manifestation of libertarianism in the US of A: 14 miles of I-95. Number of tolls: 1
     
    My state, 181 miles of I-95. Number of tolls: 0
     
    Interesting that the one state that has a balance of sales and income tax keeps an open border to all of its neighbors, even the ones just passing through. Rest assured impressions can be made, even in 9 or 14 miles of freeway traffic.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Having just done the round trip to and from Bangor, you’re missing the other stuff.  Maryland – 2 toll boths heading northbound, one heading south.  I find it hilarious that you have to pay to get out of the state, but are allowed back in free.
      New Jersey:  Don’t even get me started.  I lost count  due to a combination of the NJ Turnpike and the Garden State Expressway (what a joke for a name).  Took the TappanZee bridge (toll heading up, free heading back) because I drove through Long Island once.  Never again. Maine:  Three toll booths, all in Massachusetts-Maine, none in real-Maine.

    • 0 avatar
      cackalacka

      Hey, make no mistake Syke, I had the EZ pass on hand for MD/NJ/NY.
       
      At least in the case of Maryland, you’re actually spanning a distance wider than a half-marathon or extra-large parking lot. Throw in the Susquehanna bridge, and I can respect the need to open my wallet.
       
      NJ has the highest population density of every state, and I can certainly fork over some duckets to pass over the GW into Manhattan. In those cases, you’re going places.
       
      But Delaware, New Hampshire? Come on.
       
      Y’all can taught your precious benign state taxation rates till the cows come home. Those of us who have passed through your ‘states’ know better.

  • avatar
    twotone

    Not really that different from resident/non-resident hunting and fishing licenses. I’ve always though that Colorado should do the same for lift tickets.

    Twotone

  • avatar
    wallstreet

    Is there a reason why states can’t get their shit together and create 50 states compliant EZ tag? I’m sure today’s technology is capable of sorting out each and every toll charges.

    • 0 avatar
      johnny ro

      Politics – my only guess on that is its the same reason we keep the state governments at all. We sure don’t need them. I believe in the Feds over State agencies.


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