Here in Boston, the MBTA has decided to crack down on, of all things, musicians who play inside the subway stations.
They have banned all amplification and electrified instruments. Musicians who fall outside of these categories will still be able to play, provided they pay $25 for a permit (that lasts 3 months), adhere to a dress code, wear a photo ID and stop performing by 11 p.m.
The change came out of the blue. There was no front-page controversy that sparked the change, nor did they consult with any artists' organizations or community groups before declaring the rules.
The MBTA does have reasons for the change. But these reasons make better punch lines than they do arguments.
First, the MBTA says that it is an issue of safety, because people need to be able to hear announcements over the intercom. Anyone who actually rides the T on a regular basis will realize the absurdity of this. The intercom system is a fantastic joke. Think the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons. Wah, wah, wah. Even when the volume of the intercom is high enough to be heard over the sound of the trains and crowds, which it usually is not, the static accompanying the voice often makes it incomprehensible.
And is the MBTA going to ban people from wearing headphones? Lots of people do on the subway. I bet they can't hear the announcements. Perhaps there will be a general regulation on how loudly you can speak as well.
The idea that in the event of an emergency, the musician will obstruct communication, is laughable. Don't you think the musician would STOP PLAYING if there were, for example, a fire in the station?
Second, the MBTA says that they have gotten complaints. I'm sure they have. I'm sure they get lots of complaints. The question is, do these complaints amount to anything more than, "I don't like that music"? If public opinion were really the reason, the MBTA would have had an open comment period before the regulation was passed, so that all the people who actually like the presence of the musicians would have had a chance to speak up. People wait in the station generally for a maximum of 15 minutes, usually only about 5-10, anyway. Deal.
There are several reasons that this regulation is unnecessary and hurtful. Here's a couple:
First, music is just not that common in the subway stations, and loud music is even less common. Why the MBTA is choosing this issue to waste enforcement dollars on—while they are simultaneously planning a fare hike—is beyond me. How about doing something about people getting shot in the subway stations (not by musicians!), which is something that has happened in the last year.
Second, the regulation is classist and amounts to a regressive tax. It is a way to chase people without money, who tend to scare people who do have money, out of the subway. Why, exactly, do musicians have to wear photo IDs? Why does the musician pose any more threat to my safety than the person reading the newspaper next to me on the bench? Why don't we all have to wear photo IDs? And a DRESS CODE? You've got to be kidding. It's not as if the musicians are performing in the nude. Why don't we all have to meet a dress code? Obviously these regulations target a certain group based on stereotypes about that group, and as such, they are inappropriate policies.
The MBTA has not released any statistics linking musicians to crime or harassment in the subway. I would think they would have some evidence to support the need to keep closer tabs on musicians, evidence other than the stereotype that, hey, these people look like they might be homeless.
The new MBTA rules are just another example of an effort to drive the "unsightly" underclass out of the public eye. Out of sight, out of mind. You can't ban people. If they are not in the subway station, they will be on the sidewalk.
Whether or not you live in Boston, it would be helpful to let the MBTA know about your views on this matter. I have forwarded a copy of this posting to them, to let them know mine.
The MBTA can be reached at: