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Technology Helping New York Commuters Cope With Strike

The last time the New York City had a transit strike, in 1980, a fax machine was considered cutting-edge. Fast forward 25 years, and it is a world of wireless laptops, Internet-enabled cell phones and telecommuting from your living room.

And that, some say, is a big reason the bus and subway strike has not caused the utter chaos that many people had expected.

"We're open for business as usual," said Selena Morris, spokeswoman for Merrill Lynch & Co. The financial management company had some employees working from home, while others could go to various regional offices if getting into Manhattan was too difficult.

"It makes it a lot easier for people to function when you have a crisis like this, just to log in from wherever you are," she said. "It's inconvenient, obviously, but I think we've been able to work around it."

Commuters have also Internet technology to find rides or a couch to sleep on, and to fire off e-mails from home or the car.

Clearly, there are a lot of jobs in New York City for which working from home is not an option, such as in retail and the service industry. But for segments like the financial industry, technology makes a big difference, said Frank Lichtenberg, professor of economics at Columbia Business School.

The strike "does still represent a significant disruption," he said, but "clearly this information technology has reduced the cost of this kind of disruption and made it somewhat easier to bear."

Commuters have posted ads on Web sites like Craigslist, looking for or offering rides to meet the four-person-per-car rule for cars entering a large portion of Manhattan, and offering to rent out space to anyone looking for a place to crash for the night.

A one-bedroom apartment near Times Square was being offered for $140 per night, while a studio near Grand Central Terminal was going for $145.

Dennis C. Fleischmann, managing partner of the Bryan Cave law firm's New York office, said the strike was having a "minimal" effect, with most employees able to get in and others working from home.

"These days in our business, between e-mail and voice mail, you can function reasonably well from a remote location," he said. "In terms of productivity we don't really lose very much."