You’re madly out of one subway car and into another before the doors slam shut. Or you use your hands as fans. Or you sit by an open window, hoping for even the slightest hint of a breeze. Or, resigned to your sweaty fate, you call out to fellow travelers, warning them not to step on them: “It’s very hot!”
Such is the sad experience of a few rare but unlucky New Yorkers in this particularly steamy season: sweltering inside a subway car whose air conditioning has run out.
On a recent Wednesday, when outdoor temperatures reached above 90 degrees and felt even hotter with the humidity, Car 1859 on the #1 line was one of those cars.
It wasn’t the first time.
The car, which is about 37 years old, has been written off four times for reported air conditioning problems over the past six years, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Yes, it is generally rare. After all, said Richard Davey, the president of the New York Transit Authority that operates the MTA, the air conditioning on all of New York’s nearly 6,000 subway cars works 99.4 percent of the time. That percentage is 8.5 percent better than last year, and 33 percent better than two years ago, he noted.
“For any of our customers, a difficult experience is a difficult experience, but the vast majority today, they will be in a fairly comfortable car,” Mr Davey said.
Still, that’s cold comfort for those stuck in a hot car on a hot day.
Lulu Jenkins, 38, may have been among the unluckiest riders on Wednesday. At 2:15 pm, she said she had already been on three trains without air conditioning.
“I’m trying to hurry and get out,” said Ms. Jenkins, who is from Harlem, as she stood near a door in Car 1859 as it headed north. “It’s really hard, and when there’s no AC and there’s a lot of people coming in, it makes it even worse.” A nearby window was cracked, picking up the noise of the train on the track but doing little to dry the beads of sweat forming on her face.
Mrs. Jenkins said she only needed to take the train four stops downtown, but that if she needed to take the train to work and spend more time on it, she would switch to another car or take a completely different line.
As time passed and the temperature rose, fewer and fewer people sat on the rapidly heating seats. As soon as new passengers felt the air inside, they jumped up and raced to a less pressurized car.
Well, not all of them. Wilfred Same, 57, said there was no reason to move. He said he often takes the No. 1 train to his job as a security guard and was on his way there Wednesday.
“A lot of people are running away because it’s hot,” said Mr. Same, who is from Senegal. “It’s crazy.”
The air conditioning in subway cars can stop working for a variety of reasons, Mr. Davey said. The train may run out of Freon – a gas that is used in air conditioners – or a filter may become clogged.
Sometimes the car is just old. Older cars are clustered on the A, C, #1 and Rockaway shuttle lines.
The MTA is buying thousands of subway cars and is currently putting new ones on the A line. The new cars have automatic temperature sensors that notify officials if they are hot.
In the meantime, Mr. Davey urged riders to report hot cars to the authorities; repair time is between one and six hours.
“We do have roving managers and supervisors with a temperature gun,” Mr. Davey said. Workers point their screens at thermometer stickers on the ceilings of cars, testing them before they leave and while they’re on the job.
Kevin Blucher, 48, said he often encountered hot trains on the No. 1, 2 and 3 lines.
“It can be dangerous, especially the people who have health problems and all that,” he said.
But for Mr. Blucher, the heat was manageable. “I’m from the Caribbean,” he said.
Rita Walters, 59, let out a sigh as she walked onto Car 1859 and then smiled as the doors closed before she could get out. She said the train felt like a sauna.
“I come from a tropical people so I like warm weather, but this is a bit much, even for me,” Ms Walters said. She said she usually changes cars immediately. But since she only traveled six stops, so said she would probably stay. She estimated she encountered a hot car once a month.
Riders began demanding air conditioning on subway cars in the post-war years. Air conditioning came to the transit system in 1955, and the city bought 600 air-conditioned cars in 1967. But it wasn’t until 1993 that the Transportation Authority could boast that 99 percent of its cars had air conditioning.
While some subway cars are sometimes warm, many subway stations are often stuffy. Tiffany-Ann Taylor, the vice president for transportation at the Regional Planning Association, said that most subway platforms, except the new ones like at Hudson Yards, are hot because the air conditioning on the trains generates heat that is pushed onto the subway. platforms and then captured. She said that heat generated by the cars moving also heats up the stations.
“Our stations weren’t really designed for anything like cooling, and so it might not be what people want to hear, but it’s kind of the system we have today,” Ms Taylor said.
Back on the No. 1 line, Sydney Allard, 24, was waiting for a commuter train Wednesday afternoon with a tennis racket in tow. She said hot cars are just part of living in the city, though she hasn’t come across one yet this summer.
However, she has a method to distract herself if the opportunity arises: She tries to read or do a crossword puzzle until she can get out of the car and back into the open air.
“It’s very sticky,” she said, “a little unpleasant.”
Ora Shtull, too, manages to take things in stride. She lives near the number 1 train and is just changing cars when she comes across a broken air conditioner.
“I’m just thankful to have access to public transportation,” she said.
Add Stewart contributed reporting.