Thoughts and prayers to Business Insider‘s Graham Rapier, who braved fiercely lukewarm weather for a reportage from “the very edge” of Queens, New York, where Amazon plans to erect one half of its HQ2 project. Adding to the misery, Mr Rapier writes, “I don’t live in Queens. Instead, I’m starting my my morning with an early Lyft ride from Brooklyn.”
Hopping about an 8am 7 Train from Main St Station, Flushing (and they say medical staff suffer for their work), Mr Rapier rides the eight-mile journey west into Manhattan, occasionally pulling out his smartphone to take blurred shots of the passing scenery.
“It was already getting too crowded to take truly excellent photos,” he types with trembled hand. “I’m also starting to get weird looks at this point.” Good job they didn’t know he paid around 14 days’ worth of travel to take a Lyft to their benighted corner of the city.
The TL;DR of this tone deaf piece is that New York’s subway system is already wildly overcrowded – especially in Queens, a borough of almost 2.5m people whose ridership has increased 88% since 1975, compared to NYC’s 82% overall. Amazon’s HQ2 project will be based in the borough’s Long Island City neighborhood – adding around 25,000 jobs to the local economy. Another 25,000 will go to Washington, DC.
There is more cause for concern that crowded subway platforms, however: HQ2 was a grim piece of corporate theater that wasted public time and money, effectively turning American city halls into Fiverr freelancers, offering ever greater tax breaks and shows of loyalty to entice their master.
Twenty cities put 14 months into the project, 18 of which walk away with nothing. One can only imagine the public works put on hold to fight Jeff Bezos’ tasteless talent contest. Some losers haven’t walked away entirely empty-handed: Birmingham, Al will receive $230m in Amazon investment, and some 5,000 jobs. But that comes at a price of a $51m tax break for the Seattle e-commerce giant, at a time when even Donald Trump is attacking its complex and morally ambiguous tax structure.
Queens offered $2.8m in incentives. Unemployment is low at 4%. But Amazon is unlikely to source all its talent from the borough. Rather, a wave of high-paid tech specialists will soon descend on the area, pushing up rents and making life tougher for residents already struggling with sky-high costs of living.
Satirical site The Onion writes that “the transit system’s 27 subway lines will now exclusively serve as shuttles for the roughly 25,000 Amazon employees to commute through the five boroughs,” parodying the “tech bus” scandals that rocked San Francisco in 2013.
For Queens residents it’s a joke that could turn sour. “Let’s see if they hire from around here,” 54-year-old Fontaine White told the Portland Press Herald. “I think it’s a good idea, provided you remember we live here, too. If you put Amazon in Long Island City, we’re part of Long Island City.”
That is a big “if”. Bezos has previously pledged to invest $180m in Queens’ public transport. Only time will decide whether it was hot air. History suggests, however, that city officials should be skeptical about the benefits Amazon will bring to local residents. If anything, Big Tech has taught us that things often go in the opposite direction.