- Yoel Weisshaus, 30, files his civil complaint with the U.S. District Court in New York
- He says he is representing himself because he is too poor to hire a lawyer
- Higher toll rates at bridge and tunnel crossings took effect Sunday
- Port Authority says it does not comment on ongoing litigation
A New Jersey resident filed a complaint in federal court over toll increases at New York City bridges and tunnels, alleging they constitute an abuse of power that violate his rights by unfairly targeting poor commuters.
Yoel Weisshaus, 30, said he filed his civil complaint with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Monday and is representing himself because he is too poor to hire a lawyer.
His court complaint will be assigned a case number pending a motion on his request to pursue the matter "Forma Pauperis," which would allow him to proceed without paying legal fees and costs.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency that administers the bridges and tunnels that span the Hudson River between the two states, acknowledged receipt of the complaint.
"The Port Authority does not comment on ongoing litigation," said Stephen Coleman, the agency's spokesman.
The suit also lists the state governments in both New York and New Jersey as plaintiffs, "Because they are the authorities behind the Port Authority," Weisshaus told CNN.
Higher toll rates at bridge and tunnel crossings took effect Sunday with commuters now paying $12 to cross the Hudson River, a 50% increase from the previous week.
Weisshaus' complaint seeks relief from the increases because his income falls below poverty levels.
"The new toll price enacted ... exceeds the minimum wage guideline of what a person under such income conditions can afford," his complaint reads.
According to the complaint, Weisshaus lives in New Milford, New Jersey, and studies accounting at nearby Bergen Community College. He said he travels by car regularly to the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn for visits with his grandparents, but he has been forced to curtail those visits due to the toll increases.
"I used to be able afford the tolls when they were only $6, but it became difficult when they raised them to $8," Weisshaus said.
Weisshaus said he started driving through the toll plazas without paying, explaining to the attendants that he couldn't afford the tolls anymore. He said he has received up to 15 fines mailed to him by the agency for unpaid tolls, and his suit seeks relief from those fines as well.
"I'm looking to stop the abuse," he said.
Weisshaus said the tolls were increased unfairly without proper public hearings where commuters like him could challenge the increases.
In addition, he accuses the Port Authority of overstepping its authority by enacting increases without tabling them for votes in the state legislatures in both New York and New Jersey.
And, in a swipe at the Port Authority's multibillion dollar construction project at the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan, Weisshaus' complaint reads, "There is no other relief but for the court to declare that the revenues of toll cannot and shall not be used for any use other than maintenance and building of the current and future bridges and tunnels."
The site was the target of terrorist attacks in 2001 that killed thousands. The Port Authority owns the site and is spearheading its redevelopment.
"I didn't destroy the World Trade Center; I shouldn't have to pay for it." Weisshaus said. "I see it as a private real estate development, so why should commuters have to pay for it."
Weisshaus said he is getting lots of encouragement from his grandparents. He said his grandmother is Gizella Weisshaus, the lead plaintiff in a 1996 court case filed against Swiss banks over assets held by European Jews who perished during the Holocaust."
She's a fighter," Weisshaus said of his grandmother. "She tells me you should never give up your rights."
"I can only represent myself," he said. "Yes, my plight is shared with a lot of other people; maybe others should go out and file their own suits."