STM's new plan for Metro buskers could restrict 'freedom of expression,' performer says

Musicians in Montreal’s Metro system are concerned the STM will impose a new and more restrictive system for booking spots.

For years musicians have booked spots with pen and paper

Lucas Zimbel says street musicians need to play for six hours a day in the Metro to make a living. (Lucas Zimbel/Facebook)

Musicians in Montreal's Metro system are concerned about a plan by the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) to impose a new system for booking spots next year.

For decades, buskers have been signing up for blocks of time on small sheets of paper at each station on a first-come, first-serve basis.   

The STM told CBC in an email that it plans to change that ad hoc system in 2019 in a way that "will benefit Metro musicians as much as customers."

It provided no further details.

Anyone can play

Lucas Zimbel, 28, who has been playing guitar and singing in the Metro since he was 16, suspects the STM is "trying to make it less accessible for musicians." He hasn't heard of any musicians being consulted on the new plan.  

Zimbel says the opportunity for any musician to show up in the Metro and play is an important part of Montreal's culture.

"It's a unique thing in Montreal that someone can come here, set up in the Metro and share their talent," he says.

Zimbel worries if the paper sign-up system is replaced with an online form, street musicians without access to a computer will be prevented from performing.

The current paper system makes it easy for buskers who are marginalized to perform in the system, he said.

"Freedom of expression is guaranteed."

No more 'Étoiles du Metro'

The STM flirted with auditions for street musicians when it introduced the Étoiles du Métro program in 2012. Musicians who passed the audition process were given prime spots in the Metro.

The STM decided to put that star program on hold this year, due to what it described as its "divergent vision" from a group of Montreal Metro musicians.

Many other Canadian transit systems audition musicians.

The Toronto Transit Commission holds online auditions for 90 three-year licences for the right to perform in its subway system.

The Vancouver transit system holds annual auditions to get a one-year performer licence and provides musicians with set schedules.

To perform in the Calgary light rail transit system, buskers need to undergo a police background check and pay for a $25 licence from the city.

With files from Lauren McCallum

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