City claims authority to regulate vehicles for hire

A bus subject to city regulation passes in front of the Realto theater in 1935. The city charter gives the corporation power to tax for-profit vehicles for hire — and boldly claims the power to impose a tax on private “pleasure” cars. (Photo Chattanooga History Center, Picnooga)

Transportation administrative notice is supported from an another quarter, that of the Chattanooga city charter.

The city government has authority to require vehicles for hire to be licensed. The rule appears in the charter’s list of “corporate powers” in Title 2, giving the corporation power to tax “pleasure automobiles and motorcycles, taxicabs, buses.”

By David Tulis / NoogaRadio 92.7

State law and numerous court cases make clear that the state and its organizations — such as city and county governments and the highway patrol — have power to regulate the for-profit use of the roads (but not, as TAN suggests, private and free pleasurable use).

The abuse of transportation regulatory authority is coming into view statewide, including notice to Gov. Bill Haslam and a public interest lawsuit filed in federal district court in Nashville about the effective death sentence applied against poor people who have their driver licenses suspended for nonpayment of court fees.

The ordinance makes a distinction between pleasure cars and vehicles for hire, but muddles ahead with a claim that the city has authority in to tax the possession of private cars used for private purposes.

The corporation “shall have power by ordinance to levy a privilege tax on automobiles for hire, taxicabs, automobile passenger buses, and require indemnity bonds in surety companies or indemnity insurance ***.” The city also  shall “have authority to levy a privilege tax upon the running of automobiles for pleasure and motorcycles” no more than “five dollars ($5.00)” yearly and no more than “two dollars ($2.00)” on motorbikes (rule originates in 1929  Ch. 652, § 3; Ord. No. 11272, etc.).

In its authorizations for the licensure of callings and occupations, the Tennessee general assembly since 1949 gives the corporation power “to license, tax and regulate taxicabs, automobiles for hire, trucks and buses” and to “fix a rate to be charged for the carriage of persons and property by any vehicle held out to the public use for hire within the city” and to require they post  “indemnity bonds, issued by surety companies, or indemnity insurance policies to be filed with the city” by the owner or “operator of any such vehicle.”

The fees in the 1929 language are constitutional as to the mode of collection. They refer to lawful money in silver or gold, whereas the Chattanooga corporation today requires payment and accepts it in Federal Reserve System banknotes or digital equivalent, outside its authority under the federal constitution, article 1, section 8, that states the U.S. congress has authority to regulate the value and weight of coin (silver or gold) and section 10 that says “no state shall *** make any thing but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts.”

The city has no constitutional authority to impose any fine, fee, penalty or tax apart from gold or silver, and has not been challenged in this practice.

Transportation Administrative Notice

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