Transit riders brace for influx of Amazon workers

NEW YORK (AP) — Commuters beware: New York and Washington's clogged streets and creaky subway systems are about to feel more pain as 50,000 more people descend on the two metro areas where Amazon will open new headquarters.

An expansion of that scope in a city such as New York — where the regional subway, bus and commuter lines move more than 8 million people every day — sounds like something a transit system should be able to absorb.

Not so, some experts say.

"Congestion will get worse. Buses will probably get a little bit slower. There are going to be more people traveling at a specific time of day to a specific place," said Eric Guerra, assistant professor of city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania. "But at the same time, they will create a lot of jobs where people are."

Long Island City, the New York City neighborhood that will be home to one of the new headquarters, sits across the river from the busy world of midtown Manhattan. The growing neighborhood is crisscrossed by subways and buses and surrounded by residential neighborhoods. The other headquarters will be in the Washington suburb of Arlington in northern Virginia, a part of the country known for its mind-numbing traffic.

Amazon said hiring at the two headquarters will start next year, but it could take a decade or more to build out its offices. Still, the complaining has already begun.

Among the sticking points — Amazon has won the rights to a helipad at its Long Island City location, allowing some senior executives to get through rush hour in style, though the company had to agree to limit landings to 120 per year.

"For the city and state to greenlight a helipad for the wealthiest man in the world and one of the richest corporations in the world is a slap in the face to all New Yorkers, but particularly the people in Queens who have to fight to get on the 7 train in the morning," said City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, a Democrat who represents Long Island City. "And furthermore, if there were [25,000] to 30,000 Amazon employees in Long Island City, that fight to get onto the train is going to get a lot more intense."

Frustration levels already are high among New York City subway riders. More than a quarter of residents spend more than an hour getting to work, and 57 percent ride public transit to commute, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

A key subway line that runs through Long Island City has been often criticized for delays, though long-awaited upgrades to allow trains to run more frequently are on track to finish as soon as this month, and a new ferry connection to Manhattan opened in August. Still, Van Bramer insisted the area is not sufficiently well served, and there are complaints about noise pollution from helicopters and sea planes.

"The entire city is in a mass transit crisis and nothing that I've seen about this deal makes me think it will help," New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said at a press conference Wednesday. "Western Queens transit infrastructure is already strained and the 7 train in particular is a mess every morning, so this definitely adds to existing transportation concerns."

New York City commuters have been clamoring for subway improvements for years, and some on Wednesday tweeted photos of packed subway stations near Amazon's proposed new office and reported having let several overcrowded trains go by before they were finally able to squeeze into one.

Some see the dire warnings about New York's transit system as premature.

"Even as stressed as our system is right now, an investment in growth of this magnitude doesn't overwhelm the transportation network because it's such a robust and large system," said Tom Wright, president and CEO of the Regional Plan Association, an urban research and advocacy organization.

AP Writer Jennifer Peltz in New York and Economics Writer Josh Boak in Washington contributed to this report.