Ringing in the New Year on the T

“Peace and quiet. It has a nice ring to it” proclaim the newest ads in the MBTA’s “Courtesy counts” remedial public civility campaign. Surely they jest. With the advent of underground wireless services, quiet (such as it is on mass transit) is definitely a thing of the past. In late December, the MBTA unveiled wireless service at four downtown stations and the tunnels that connect them: Park Street, Downtown Crossing, Government Center, and State Street.

This development has the virtue of putting a minimum of $4 million into the coffers of the notoriously cash-poor transit agency, courtesy of a 15-year contract with InSite Wireless, the firm constructing and operating the network. The T stands to collect additional fees as more stations are added to the wireless network. Three cell phone service providers have agreed to provide signals to their customers.

Extending the reach of wireless services to the subway tunnels has certain benefits. Texting, surfing, and e-mailing are constructive uses of commuting downtime. Riders also will be able to report suspicious behavior, crimes, fires, and even find out the real reasons for those inevitable “disabled trains” or “medical emergencies.”

Yet while no one expects a subway car to be a den of tranquility, more than a few passengers using cell phones regularly subject their fellow carbon-based units to the exquisite agony of listening mind-numbing patter. Or worse. On a jam-packed Red Line train, I once endured a cell phone conversation of a woman (accompanied by small children) featuring a breathtaking range of expletives that would have confounded even the famously foul-mouthed Richard Nixon.

Something tells me T General Manager Dan Grabauskas probably didn’t have those facts of commuting life in mind when he extolled the service as a “major customer service enhancement” in a recent statement. New posters also remind riders that “Loud conversation can disrupt everyone around you,” which was doubtless a true eureka moment for the ad writers. Unfortunately, if you didn’t learn that at your mother’s knee, or don’t have top-of-the-line cell phone coverage, it’s doubtful that you’ll be swayed by these T-dispensed pearls of wisdom.

There are better ideas, and, they are percolating elsewhere. Last September, New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced that all of its nearly 300 stations would be wired for cell phone use. To spare commuters additional unwelcome aural intrusions, the MTA made the bold decision not to wire its tunnels. But some subway riders, like some T commuters, can pick up signals on certain routes now anyway — which prompted some New York City Council members to propose “quiet cars” on trains similar to the ones in use by Amtrak and other intercity rail lines.