Brian McGrory

Just in time: the T store

By Brian McGrory
Globe Columnist / March 2, 2011

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Let’s give MBTA executives the benefit of the doubt and assume that it may never have occurred to them that anyone would be in a rush to get to Worcester.

But even taking that into account, and even by the T’s winter standards, the four-hour ride Monday night seems a trifle long, considering passengers could have left Logan Airport at the same time and been in Cancun about five minutes faster.

But all is not lost, for the T is opening up its new online store before too long, offering merchandise that highlights everyone’s favorite public transit agency. And just as long as they don’t adopt one proposed slogan “We put the T in CommuTe,’’ they can use it to blunt the impact of these delays.

Think 30-ounce coffee mugs to keep commuters warm and sated as they wait for all those late trains? Combine that with MBTA logo fleeces to wear on those wind-whipped platforms and you have a winning combination.

How about special MBTA sudoku books for passengers to while away the hours during the next delay? It’s only been two hours that I’ve been sitting on this train? Boy, does time ever fly with my new T sudoku puzzles!

There are the obvious T key chains for when people make that decision to start driving to work, just to remind them of the pain they left behind. Or how about a souvenir T snow shovel to remind passengers of that winter of havoc.

Truth is, I thought I killed off the MBTA store about 10 years ago when I wrote a column about how T pajamas (“Snuggle up with our ultra-soft nightshirt’’; seriously, it’s an exact quote from the T’s website a decade ago) and T money clips (“We’re on a roll — your money roll that is’’) weren’t selling as fast as T officials thought they would. The state secretary of transportation shut the store down by lunch that day. In some far-flung village in China, the locals are still using millions of MBTA cufflinks as currency.

But even bad ideas deserve a little mercy, so here we are again, courtesy of the T’s relatively new general manager, Richard Davey. He’s got ancient equipment. He has no money. His agency is groaning with debt. And he’s just trying to make a few bucks any way he can.

To his credit, this new store has few risks. Unlike last time, an outside vendor pays for all the merchandise and sells it online; the T takes a cut.

So count me in, provided they sell MBTA train sets — and no, not some models, but the 20-year-old locomotives and coaches that keep breaking down.

Yesterday, an apologetic Davey was on the line accepting blame. Well, actually, he was blaming the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad, the private company that runs the commuter train system for the T, but close enough. They were all in this together, he noted.

“What occurred yesterday was preventable,’’ Davey said, adding a moment later, “It was tantamount to putting a locomotive with a check engine light on one of our busiest trains.’’

The MBCR hardly covered itself in glory in its initial response, when officials issued a written statement pointing to aging equipment as the problem. The loud noises you heard from Park Square were T officials discussing the matter with their commuter rail subordinates. By afternoon, like magic, the MBCR was falling on its sword.

“This morning’s statement was a lazy excuse,’’ Davey said at day’s end.

This has been a rough winter for T commuters in general, and Davey specifically, the latter of whom deserves time to get his train legs before critics take him out at the knees. The weather has been abysmal. And there’s no pot of gold to change decades of neglect overnight.

In the meantime, perhaps they could make millions selling T-subsidized Kindle downloads of “War and Peace’’ (“Long enough to last through our worst delays!’’). MBTA T-shirts could carry the slogan: “Better late than never.’’

The store is scheduled to be online in June, meaning, well, by Christmas.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. His e-mail is