- Feel the rays. (Photo: flickr/brownpau)
Were you feeling especially warm when riding the Metro in the last couple months? According to WMATA's August Vital Signs report (PDF), you may not have been imagining the heat. The intense sizzling temperatures took their toll on the rail systems' air conditioning units in a profound way — there were 64% more air conditioning failures in the month of June compared to May, the report says, "due to hot, humid weather." These air conditioning failures lowered the availability of rail cars in June and caused a slight delay in on-time performance at the platforms (the average was just under 90%).
If it's any consolation, these failures are reported to be 30% less than the air conditioning failures of June, 2010. Hot D.C. summers apparently always leave people sweating in hot cars.
Halfway through July, when temperatures broke 100 degrees and Metro briefly permitted its riders to drink water, I interviewed the Internet Metro critic FixWMATA, a controversial figure who has obsessively tracked and compiled hot cars via Twitter hashtag with a sharp and persistent bite at Metro's chief spokesperson Dan Stessel. FixWMATA, who recently revealed himself as 32-year-old Chris Barnes, thought Metro's social media engagement amounted to empty PR; Stessel insisted to me that Metro is monitoring all hot car reports that appear on social media, dispatching technicians when they can. Unsuck D.C. Metro has expressed doubts. If 64% more air conditioning failures happened in June compared to May, I'm especially curious to see the next Vital Signs report on what happened in the sweat-tastic month of July.
Although this new quantitative confirmation of Metro's air conditioning failures is more or less expected, the fact that the failure caused delays suggests another thing — WMATA really has been briefly decommissioning rail cars with busted AC and trying to fix them, in one way or another. "Rail Transportation will work with Car Maintenance," the report continues, "to quickly make schedule adjustments to balance train spacing when railcar availability is impacted during hot days and minimize the operation of cars without working air conditioning systems."
Let's hope that strategy helps for all Metro riders' sake. The hot days aren't over yet.