Because travelers will not be easily attracted to office

The lasting memory of my daily journey is the senseless expression of a woman who had sat in front of me one evening a few years ago, kneeling to her knees, because the narrow train tracks were apparently built into a ‘ epic when Americans had half their current size. She removed a small bottle of champagne from her bag and set it on fire. After another. I don’t think she celebrated it.

Every day, before the pandemic, I accepted my trip to Manhattan from the outskirts of New Jersey as a deserved punishment for certain life decisions that led to earning less money than I could have.

I was able to walk quickly with other suburbs to the station, then board a car packed with drivers – some nice, very scrupulous – who had been paid so little to hear that no one had apparently bothered to update their uniforms. in the past half century or so.

When the train was delayed or canceled, which was often the case, a collective sigh rolled over the platform, then a flood of phone calls and emails to apologize and reschedule meetings and, of course, curse the New Jersey Transit.

Sometimes, I try to use the race constructively by reading all those Russian novels that I have neglected or even studying the Torah. He didn’t take it. Instead, I would consume too much sports news or look out the window at the paddocks of Meadowlands, wondering what it must have been like for those poor souls that the mafia has set up here.

When the train finally crept into the bowels of Penn Station, the other passengers and I entered the city as if we were climbing through a giant public restroom, passing the slumped bodies of homeless people on the way. They were dead or sleeping alone, I wondered. Did anyone care?

Every collaborator has their complaint. What is different now is the wider circumstance. For the longest time, travelers entered the office because they had no choice. The pandemic, at least in New York, may change that.

Manhattan developers and policymakers are desperate for workers to return to the office to protect the value of all those towers, and the tax revenues and smaller businesses associated with them. So far, only about 17 percent of New York workers have done so, according to Kastle Systems, the office’s security company. This is despite the fact that vaccination rates are increasing, Covid-19 infections are declining and the city is reopening at full speed.

Nervous building owners are responding by launching more of the threats popularized in recent years by technology companies such as Google and Facebook. It has become a conventional wisdom in the property industry that a 25-year-old software engineer does not set foot in an office unless they are massaged every day like a Kobe cow and have access to cold coffee. the cold, the outdoor space and the enriching activities planned. by a concierge.

All is well. But he surpasses the many other workers who, I suspect, don’t care much for free candy or a ping-pong table at the office. For them – and for me – the big disincentive to get back into the office is travel.

He grew older when I discovered, mid-pandemic, how productive I could work from home, and even more so when my son, 11, told me he didn’t feel like he really knew me when I was rushing to and from the train. every day. Time, once sacrificed to the New Jersey Transit, is the amenity I want.

That’s not to say I want to leave town. On a recent visit, I experienced the stimulation of interesting people and adult companionship, and the casual sensuality of sidewalk life that does not exist on the outskirts dedicated to raising children. I missed it.

I suspect that part of the reason we’ve allowed our transit infrastructure to decay is that most developers and senior executives aren’t of the travel class. They can understand the problem at the macro level but they will never know the desperation of the Port Authority bus terminal.

Travel repair is more difficult and expensive than jazz in an office. Every day now, the Biden administration must approve a long-delayed project to dig train tunnels under the Hudson River in New Jersey to alleviate congestion. The current tunnels are 110 years old and have been damaged by flooding from Hurricane Sandy. Meanwhile, some New Yorkers hope Governor Andrew Cuomo survives the growing scandals – only to see his planned renovation of Penn Station become a reality.

These are late patches on an overloaded system. But why don’t I think older, like my kids and I did a recent night out. What do you think of train cars that offer sushi all you can eat on rotating conveyors, or that are equipped with Peloton bikes? How about restoring the bar’s car, but upgraded by someone like restaurateur Danny Meyer?

Sounds fanciful. But in this era the New Yorkers have summoned the ingenuity to build incredibly tall and lean apartment towers. Row of the Billionaires, which overlooks Central Park, largely to serve as safe havens for foreign wealth. They built an entire luxury neighborhood, Hudson Yards, on top of a platform that embraces a rusty train store.

Soon the labor movement from home could be crushed or co-opted, as most revolutions are. But for now, travelers have the power to demand change. They have to use it.

Joshua Chaffin is the New York correspondent on FT. Email it to

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