Bloomberg says the M.T.A. needs more money, and he’ll land his helicopter elsewhere

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Bloomberg in Coney Island. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg this morning said subway stations don't need restaurant-style letter grades, as some in the City Council have proposed. What they need is more money, much as taxi drivers do.

Asked about yesterday's proposal that the M.T.A. post letter grades based on factors like subway-station cleanliness, the mayor said, "You know, I'll tell you what I really think. I think we should have a consistent source of funding for the M.T.A. so [chairman] Joe Lhota can do what he's supposed to do and what he's tried to do, and that is get us better bus and subway service throughout the whole region. We had a plan, if you remember."

The mayor has made this argument before.

The M.T.A. relies on a volatile funding stream that's heavily dependent on debt and the health of the economy.

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In his second term, Bloomberg backed a proposal known as congestion pricing that, among other things, would have instituted tolls on East River bridges and dedicated those monies to the M.T.A. It died in Albany.

"Albany said they had a better idea, and right now Joe Lhota doesn't have the resources he needs to do the job that has to get done," said the mayor, during a press conference on Coney Island announcing the start of the beach season. "They picked the right guy to run the M.T.A., but he can't do it without money."

Recently, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who's running for mayor in 2013, proposed resurrecting the commuter tax and dedicating its proceeds to the M.T.A. (Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver helped abolish the commuter tax in 1999.)

But taxes to support the M.T.A., like the recently rolled-back payroll mobility tax, are regarded with substantial hostility in the suburbs surrounding New York City.

Asked today if he thought Stringer's proposal was politically viable, the mayor said, "We just had a commuter tax, and then the legislature took it away. You can measure it in months from when they took it away."

"Whether it's a good idea or a bad idea, it is not politically viable idea," he added. "Albany's not going to do it."

Somewhat related, the mayor said he approves of a proposal to raise taxi fares by 16 to 20 percent, something that the Taxi and Limousine Commission will consider later this month.

"Yeah, I think it is a good idea," he said, adding, "Some people think the 2009, 50-cent surcharge went to the drivers, but the truth of the matter [is] it was entirely to benefit the M.T.A.. We had to find some ways to fund the M.T.A.."

"Even with the increase in the proposed range, New York City taxis are still a good value compared to taxis in other cities," the mayor continued. "They're cheaper than in L.A. or San Francisco, and it's cheaper than London and Tokyo."

Further, the mayor said, "If there is a fare increase, we think it should go to the drivers, not the fleet owners. Medallion prices, as you know, remain at historic highs."

Following a recent report that the mayor was using the 34th Street heliport on weekends, even though it was supposed to be closed, the mayor has promised to land elsewhere.

Asked today how this would impact his trips to the Hamptons, the mayor said, "I would love to tell you it would be a big thing in my life, but it isn't. I live in Midtown, roughly at Fifth Avenue, east side, west side equal distance, doesn't change it at all."