Maybe it's the holiday spirit.

A random check of folks crisscrossing Center City yesterday, above ground and below, found a high tolerance for street musicians.

Even the bad ones.

"At least they're making an effort," Marion Brown said as she paused in Suburban Station on her way to catch a train home to Norristown.

Still, a perennial question has returned with the settlement of a case involving the arrest of a classically trained flutist who performs on street corners: Should street performers be regulated? And if so, how?

"The key issue, which is so subjective, is the quality," said Paul Levy, director of the Center City District. "Paris auditions people to assure a certain amount of quality."

In New York, the transit authority subjects would-be street performers to a panel of judges, who select and reject.

Levy holds that the time has come for Philadelphia to elevate its standards.

"As a city, we've been dramatically transformed in the last decade," Levy said. "We should take the opportunity of a new mayor coming in to look at the policy."

Mayor-elect Michael Nutter was on the run yesterday, but he released a statement on the topic:

"I support all forms of entertainment that enliven city life and bring enjoyment to our city residents. Obviously, clear rules and regulations need to be respected, but I would certainly consider looking at any ideas that bring together the artists who want to express themselves and the people who enjoy listening to their music."

The regulations in Philadelphia - described by City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr. as a "real live-and-let-live kind of place" - address nuisance and noise levels.

Under an ordinance dating to 1897, no one may "play a hand organ or other musical instrument" between 10 p.m. and 9 a.m., near a hospital, or in front of a school during class or a place of worship during services.

Beyond that, rules prohibit noise that is 3 to 10 decibels above the background noise, Diaz said. Background noise in Center City has been measured at 70 to 75 decibels during the day and 50 to 60 decibels at night.

Quality, however, is not regulated.

"That would require an ordinance of City Council," Diaz said. "We haven't really looked at it because, frankly, I don't see it happening anytime soon."

Carlos Santiago, 26, of the Fairmount section, is among the street performers not in need of a quality stamp. A classically trained violinist, he performs at Suburban Station to help pay his way toward a music degree at Temple University.

"He is out here providing a service, and he's really good," said John Cherrybon of Morrisville, listening to Santiago as he waited for a train home. "He's got some really good entertainment. He's really talented."

Santiago said he feared the typical passerby might not be able to distinguish between quality and, well, the rest.

But Cherrybon, an electrician assigned to a job site near 18th and Walnut Streets, could. "I see them a lot," he said of the others. "They've got one song, and that's all they do."

Despite concerns about being lumped in with an assorted bunch of street performers, Santiago expressed support for the others.

"I don't want to go up to them and say, 'You're really horrible. You should practice,' " Santiago said. "You have these cats who are at least trying to do something."

Cherrybon was appreciative, too.

"I love life, so I'll take whatever I can see," he said as he leaned on a railing at Suburban Station. "It doesn't matter to me."