Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
A state may require that common carriers such as railroads provide services in a manner suitable for the convenience of the communities they serve. 1 Similarly, a primary duty of a public utility is to serve all those who desire the service it renders, and so it follows that a company cannot pick and choose to serve only those portions of its territory that it finds most profitable. Therefore, compelling a gas company to continue serving specified cities as long as it continues to do business in other parts of the state does not constitute an unconstitutional deprivation. 2 Likewise, requiring a railway to continue the service of a branch or part of a line is acceptable, even if that portion of the operation is an economic drain. 3 A company, however, cannot be compelled to operate its franchise at a loss, but must be at liberty to surrender it and discontinue operations. 4
As the standard for regulation of a utility is whether a particular directive is reasonable, the question of whether a state order requiring the provision of services is reasonable could include a consideration of the likelihood of pecuniary loss, the nature, extent and productiveness of the carrier’s intrastate business, the character of the service required, the public need for it, and its effect upon service already being rendered. 5 An example of the kind of regulation where the issue of reasonableness would require an evaluation of numerous practical and economic factors is one that requires railroads to lay tracks and otherwise provide the required equipment to facilitate the connection of separate track lines. 6
Generally, regulation of a utility’s service to commercial customers attracts less scrutiny 7 than do regulations intended to facilitate the operations of a competitor, 8 and governmental power to regulate in the interest of safety has long been conceded. 9 Requirements for service having no substantial relation to a utility’s regulated function, however, have been voided, such as requiring railroads to maintain scales to facilitate trading in cattle, or prohibiting letting down an unoccupied upper berth on a rail car while the lower berth was occupied. 10