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Correction to This Article
In a photo caption with a June 15 article on the possibility of allowing musicians and other artists to perform in Metro stations, Jake Stoehr was identified as James Stoehr.

Metro as Underground Music Scene?

James Stoehr at Farragut North. Metro does not allow buskers in stations.
James Stoehr at Farragut North. Metro does not allow buskers in stations. (By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)

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By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 15, 2006

Somewhere in the bowels of New York's subway there are bongo players and mariachi bands. The tunnels of the Paris Metro are filled with musicians playing nearly every kind of instrument. In button-down Washington? People waiting in sci-fi silence.

That might be about to change. Under a proposal to be presented today, managers are asking the Metro board to entertain the idea of entertainment in stations, which has been banned since Metrorail opened 30 years ago.

The second-busiest subway system in the country is one of the few that prohibit music and other types of entertainment inside stations. And it means it. Repeat offenders are subject to a maximum punishment of a $100 fine and 10 days in jail. After all, this is a transit system built by an Army general and patrolled by police who once arrested a 12-year-old girl for eating a french fry.

In the latest of several "customer-first" initiatives, Metro's interim general manager, Dan Tangherlini, thinks entertainment could make the ridership experience "more fun or interesting or peaceful" as the system gets more crowded. Ridership on Tuesday, with a Washington Nationals game at RFK Stadium, was 786,843 trips, the sixth highest ever.

"It's a nice, uplifting way to start the day," said Tangherlini, referring to music he has heard riding the New York and Boston subways. He said he likes reggae, Johnny Cash and everything in between.

The proposal lays out models for music that Metro could explore. The Chicago Transit Authority allows performances at stations with adequate space. In New York, auditions are held every spring, and performers who are selected receive permits to play in the 25 most desirable stations. One performer, singer Susan Cagle, caught the ear of a Columbia Records producer, signed a contract and recently released her first CD. It features six tracks recorded during rush hour at Times Square, a Columbia Records spokeswoman said.

Metro could also do joint promotions. If the circus is coming to the Verizon Center, clowns and jugglers could be part of a one-time promotion at the Gallery Place-Chinatown Station, said Jim Hughes, the agency's chief for operations support.

Metro has tried to bring music to the underground before. But the proposal mostly ran into deaf ears. "It just fell off the radar screen," recalled board Chairman Gladys Mack, who represents the District. Mack, who is fond of Broadway show tunes, said it might be time to consider new ideas.

"We have been extra cautious about introducing anything other than things purely related to transit," she said. "We have a board now that is willing to listen and a general manager who brings us fresh ideas to try."

Last month, the board gave the green light for Metro to pursue a pilot program allowing business kiosks in some stations. The board is also expected to approve credit card payments for parking. Currently, a SmarTrip card is required to exit a Metro lot.

Music in the stations is a concern for Metro police, who worry about solicitation and increases in thefts. If the board signs on, Tangherlini said, agency officials will work with police and local jurisdictions to "make it work."

Passengers such as Dennis Jaffe, who heads the Riders Advisory Council, worry that entertainers could get in the way of riders.


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