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LA is blasting classical music to deter homeless people from gathering at metro stations

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, HOST:

Los Angeles County is trying to drive away homeless people from one of its metro stations by playing classical music. It's part of a pilot program intended to make public transportation more appealing to commuters in a city where most would rather endure heavy traffic than use the subway. Sergio Olmos reports.

SERGIO OLMOS, BYLINE: The streets outside the Westlake/MacArthur Metro Station in Los Angeles are filled with people throughout the day, though few of them are commuters. It's a popular spot for homeless folks to gather. But head down the escalators into the metro station, and there's a distinct sound that recently began playing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OLMOS: Last month, LA Metro began a repeating playlist of classical music. It's louder than what you'd hear in an elevator or a lobby, and it's designed to discourage homeless folks lingering on the platform. One of the people hanging out here is Ramond Montenegro Jr. He says the music has been driving out some homeless folks.

RAMOND MONTENEGRO JR: It's a bit annoying. People don't stay in the station no more.

OLMOS: Along with the music, he says, the police presence has increased, though he thinks cleaning up the station is a good idea, he says the environment should be safe for kids.

MONTENEGRO: They just want to clean the station up, you know, which is good, you know, because kids go down there, you know, and they ride the train, too, you know?

OLMOS: Metro didn't respond to NPR's request for comment, but a spokesperson told the LA Times, quote, "the music is not loud" and plays at 72 decibels. That's about as loud as a noisy dishwasher. As the largest county in the nation, Los Angeles also has the largest homeless population, more than 69,000 people. It's a problem that LA Metro isn't trying to solve, just nudge elsewhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OLMOS: Someone who actually commutes using the station is Muhammed Mosu. He's with his small dog, Riley, waiting for the train to arrive. He says the music doesn't make the station feel any safer.

MUHAMMED MOSU: Not safer, not - never, ever. Specifically, this station, only homeless...

OLMOS: It's just past 9 p.m. And he says that this time of night is when he's most uncomfortable here.

MOSU: Sometimes, I'm scared, you know? Specifically, like, this time there's no cops, sometimes no anybody, you know?

OLMOS: Elsewhere on the platform, David Hanson and Anthony Rodabaugh are hanging out. They're both homeless. Hanson actually finds the music pleasant.

DAVID HANSON: It's soothing. It's soothing music. It's like elevator music. It just calms you down.

OLMOS: But his friend Rodabaugh has a different take.

ANTHONY RODABAUGH: It can be a little too loud, volume wise, and some of the choices of concert selection is difficult, like, very staccato-ish. You know, (vocalizing). I like more a melodic melody.

OLMOS: But some people dislike the music so much, they bring their own.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Rapping) We can't get no...

OLMOS: One man who goes by the street name Mo, the Last Black Panther lugged in a full-sized, DJ-style speaker. He's playing old-school rap to protest the classical music.

MO: You got the city - better work for everybody. That means the rich, the poor, the homeless. There's got to be a place for everybody.

OLMOS: The city, he says, has to work for everybody. But his voice is mostly drowned out by the competing sounds in the Westlake/MacArthur Metro Station. For NPR News, I'm Sergio Olmos in Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sergio Olmos
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