NEW YORK – Mayor Bill de Blasio and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer rode the "R'' train from Brooklyn to City Hall on Thursday morning, chatting with straphangers, handing out leaflets and, at times, adopting Boston accents as they called for the public to pressure Congress to increase federal transportation funding.
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The two men, both Democrats, urged Congress to replenish the federal highway trust fund, which is set to run out of money on May 31.
"The bottom line is we need investment if we expect to have a society to work, if we expect to get around, if we expect to be able to get to work," de Blasio said at a news conference after the subway ride, where the men were joined by other elected officials, business leaders and transportation advocates.
"We need investment from Washington," the mayor said. "This is our lifeline. It's what makes our economy works."
The gas tax has been the traditional source of funding for the fund, but revenue generated from the tax has struggled to keep pace with construction costs, since the price of gas has fallen and because cars have become more fuel-efficient.
Schumer placed the blame squarely at the feet of the Republican-controlled Congress, which has done nothing with a transportation bill proposed by President Barack Obama. Congress has approved only a series of temporary infrastructure funding patches since 2009, including an $11 billion measure a year ago that will expire at the end of next month.
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"There's a whole group of people in Washington who think everything should be private, whether it's a highway, a bridge or a subway system," he said. "It's crazy."
To highlight the importance of mass transit in New York, which has the nation's largest mass transit system, de Blasio and Schumer hopped aboard the subway in their shared neighborhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn (though the mayor, who now lives in Gracie Mansion in Manhattan, was first driven to Brooklyn).
The ride — part of a nationwide awareness campaign put on by 60 mayors — began with de Blasio staying on message, handing out fliers and telling commuters: "Can you help up us out on this? We need your voice heard."
But, as with many subway rides, small talk crept in. Schumer asked about the Yankees game Wednesday night. At one point, de Blasio for some reason paid homage to the region where he grew up, adopting a Boston accent to say "Wicked fahh," to which Schumer, who grew up in Brooklyn, responded "Green Monstahh" as a nod to the city's famed baseball park. Schumer also asked commuters to check out his neckwear, which had renderings of pigs, eggs and blocks of cheese and he had dubbed his "breakfast tie."
While some riders were more interested in their phones than the public officials, others gawked at de Blasio's height and asked to take photos with the pair. Alison Warren, 24, was so taken with the sight that she had a startling realization when she looked up a few moments later.
"I missed my subway stop," Warren said, "but that's OK."