The Data Behind ‘Hot Cars’ in the N.Y. Subway System


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Nobody wants to ride in an overheated steel box in the middle of summer.

There are few things more uncomfortable than commuting on the New York City subway system on a hot and humid summer day. Among them is commuting on the subway during a hot and humid summer while riding in a so-called “hot car.” That’s where the temperatures soar inside a train car due to a malfunctioning air conditioning system. Hot-car commuting isn’t fun.

In a recently released video, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority details how it’s planning to reduce the number of hot cars. There are about 5,400 subway cars in service on any given weekday in the nation’s largest city. Less than 2 percent those cars don’t meet the MTA’s standards for air conditioning and ventilation.

According to the MTA, 90 percent of hot car reports involve New York’s legacy subway fleet, cars built between 1964 and 1988 where heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are more vulnerable to debris and dust because their air intake is at track level.

The good news: HVAC systems on subway cars deployed since 1999—the so-called Millennium fleet—are easier to fix and replace since they have easier-to-access rooftop units. So as more of the legacy fleet is retired, instances of hot-car commuting in New York City should become less frequent.

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route FIfty and is based in Seattle.

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