Why aren’t there any musicians playing in Metro stations? I can understand why Metro wouldn’t let the bucket-drummer guys in—they would get pretty loud and annoying after a while. But there isn’t even a tasteful clarinetist to be found. Or why not a mime? Everyone loves mimes!
Ride the Tube in London or the New York City subway and you’ll likely encounter a licensed busker—a musician, magician, or other type of performer entertaining tourists and, to some extent, commuters. But ride the Metro and the only music you’ll encounter is blaring out of the headphones of the person sitting next you.
The reason is that the Metro Transit Police uses an article in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Compact, Metro’s governing document, that states, “The Authority shall have the power to adopt rules and regulations for the safe, convenient, and orderly use of the transit facilities owned, controlled, or operated by the Authority, including…the protection of the transit facilities…and the safety and protection of the riding public,” to outlaw busking in Metro stations.
“It’s a matter of safety, as well as a means of avoiding people soliciting customers for funds,” says Taryn McNeil, Metro public affairs coordinator, who adds that musicians playing in the system could muddle safety announcements.
McNeil also notes that by outlawing busking Metro also avoids customers complaining about the musicians’ skills and musical choices.
To ensure that buskers cannot bypass the Metro police’s “safety and protection” claims, the District, Maryland, and Virginia have uniform laws that outlaw music performance within 15 feet of Metro property.
London and New York City counter Metro’s concerns by licensing the performers, which requires buskers to pass auditions to ensure a high level of talent and variety, as well as allows officials to screen their criminal records to ensure customer safety.
Despite positive receptions to busker licensing in other cities, unless a potent grassroots movement rises to challenge the 39-year-old law, it doesn’t appear likely that the wording in the compact will change, McNeil says.
Every Monday, the ‘Huh?’ Bub takes your questions. Got one?