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MBTA delays subway music rules

Ban on amplifiers, horns delayed a week for talks

Following heated criticism of new rules that prohibit subway musicians from using amplified instruments or horns of any kind, the MBTA said yesterday that it would delay the restrictions for one week to allow for talks on the issue.

Michael H. Mulhern, the MBTA's general manager, pushed the ban back to Dec. 8 after a phone conversation with state Senator Jarrett T. Barrios, according to a spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

"Any delay in the implementation of these rules is good news, because some of these people can't even afford to not work for a week, and so this takes the cruelty out of it a little," said Stephen H. Baird, executive director of Community Arts Advocates, a nonprofit organization.

Baird is pushing for public hearings and said a lawsuit is also possible, but added that "I'm hopeful this delay means they are willing to negotiate."

Barrios, a Cambridge Democrat, said he hoped the talks would produce "reasonable accommodations for the musicians and to the tens of thousands of us who enjoy listening to them."

Musicians are required to be "neat in appearance" under the new Subway Performers Program Policy and must wear photo identification badges. They also must pay $25 for an annual performance permit that previously was free. The rules ban the use of microphones and amplifiers, which would eliminate electric guitars and keyboards.

Criticism from the music community was swift and widespread after about 650 currently licensed performers received a letter earlier this month informing them of the new rules.

More than 6,000 people have signed a petition protesting the move, according to Community Arts Activists. Well-known musicians who have performed in Boston's subways, including Tracy Chapman, are criticizing the MBTA, saying the rules would dehumanize places that have become known around the country for sounds other than screeching trains.

Joe Pesaturo, the MBTA spokesman, has said that the musicians drown out the public address system and that "if people can't hear those messages, then we have a problem." Critics of the new rules countered that no one can understand the messages, which at times are muffled and distorted, even when musicians aren't playing. MBTA officials also have called the new regulations a response to security concerns following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A security task force had recommended banning the musicians altogether.

The musicians say the policy has nothing to do with security and is part of a long history of attempts to silence them. They call the rules "discriminatory," "arrogant," and "unconstitutional."

Despite the delay, MBTA officials said musicians would still have to continue registering for photo ID badges.

Mac Daniel of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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