Every public entity or property-owner has its own rules about what you can and can’t do and where you can and can’t do it.
Here are the relevant sections of the MTA regulations (in bold where they affect buskers):
Use of the transit system.
1)…….The following non-transit uses are permitted by the Authority, provided they do not impede transit activities and they are conducted in accordance with these rules: public speaking; campaigning; leafletting or distribution of written noncommercial materials; activities intended to encourage and facilitate voter registration; artistic performances, including the acceptance of donations; solicitation for religious or political causes; solicitation for charities that: (1) have been licensed for any public solicitation within the preceding 12 months by the Commissioner of Social Services of the City of New York under section 21-111 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York or any successor provision; (2) are duly registered as charitable organizations with the Attorney General of New York under section 172 of the New York Executive Law or any successor provision; or, (3) are exempt from Federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the United States Internal Revenue Code or any successor provision. Solicitors for such charities shall provide, upon request, evidence that such charity meets one of the preceding qualifications.
Permitted non-transit uses may be conducted in the transit system except: (A) when on or within: a subway car; an omnibus; or, any area not generally open to the public; (B) within a distance of 25 feet of a station booth, or a fare media sales device including but not limited to a fare media vending machine; or, (C) within a distance of 50 feet from the marked entrance to an Authority office or tower. (D) The following activities are not subject to the minimum distance requirements as set forth in subparagraphs (B) and (C) of this paragraph: public speaking; leafletting or distribution of written noncommercial materials; campaigning; and, activities intended to encourage and facilitate voter registration, provided, that with respect to any of the activities described in this subparagraph, no sound production device is used and no physical obstruction, such as a table or other object, is present within a distance of 25 feet of a station booth or fare media sales device, or 50 feet from the marked entrance to an Authority office or tower.
(4) No activity is permitted which creates excessive noise or which emits noise that interferes with transit operations. The emission of any sound in excess of 85 dBA on the A weighted scale measured at five feet from the source of the sound or 70 dBA measured at two feet from a station booth is excessive noise and is prohibited. Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, the use on subway platforms of amplification devices of any kind, electronic or otherwise, is prohibited.
So, basically, you can’t obstruct anyone on the platforms or near any of the entrances or exits or fare machines, and whether or not you are is ultimately at the discretion of MTA officials or NYPD officers.
You can’t use amplification on the platforms – I guess that’s understandable because no-one really wants any emergency announcements to be drowned out.
No performing on the trains themselves, but anyone who rides the Subway knows that’s one of those rules that gets ‘bent.’
As part of the Music Under New York program, more than a hundred artists and performers are accredited and get permits to work in approved locations. I’ll find out more about how that system works as the project progresses and I talk both to the artists who take part in it and the folks who run it.
As for my own busking, I won’t break the MTA’s rules but I have no problem talking to people who do.
There’s also a raft of regulations that govern “panhandling” or begging on the Subway and that’s a whole separate area, which I’ll find out more about as we go.
Partly because I’m only a visitor to this world, and I don’t want to take resources out of the system, as it were, I wont be soliciting contributions when I play and I won’t be either playing long enough – or, likely, well enough – to take money away from legitimate performers.
I definitely don’t want to take away donations that might otherwise go to people who really need it, so I’ll keep a tally here of how much money I collect each day, then at the end of the project I’ll write a check for the cumulative amount to a charity; either to benefit homelessness or something to do with musical education.
If you have any ideas for worthy causes, by all means let me know, but we’ve a couple of months before we have to think about that, and, to be honest, I don’t think my earning potential will turn out to be that great.