By John Brennan The Record
HACKENSACK, N.J. — More than $400,000 worth of prime parking for Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium — some 2,000 parking passes and 300 charter bus permits — was purchased, but never used, according to interviews conducted by The Record.
Instead, thousands flocked to NJ Transit’s rail service, which quickly became overwhelmed, leaving thousands of fans waiting hours to board trains both to and from the game.
As it turned out, 33,000 fans used NJ Transit’s rail spur to MetLife Stadium on game day, when the agency had expected no more than 16,000. NJ Transit relied on estimates from the National Football League that vastly overstated the number of fans who would drive or take chartered buses to the game.
Interviews with more than a dozen officials familiar with the planning for the Meadowlands Super Bowl revealed a number of factors that combined to add to the burden on the rail link.
— A source involved with transportation planning said 300 charter bus permits were not used, even though they had been sold for $350 apiece. The NFL had estimated that as many as 50 fans would ride to the game per charter bus, accounting for up to 15,000 fans.
— Giants co-owner John Mara said that “approximately 2,000 parking passes” were purchased at $150 apiece but for some reason were not used on game day. The NFL had estimated that an average of three people would travel to the game per car, accounting for 6,000 fans.
Officials for the NFL and the Super Bowl Host Committee got the word out in the final week regarding fans who did not already have a reserved seat on a bus or a parking permit: “You have to take the train.”
Also contributing to the mass transit problems was low participation in the NFL’s own Fan Express, which offered a bus ride to the game for $51.
Sal Gentile, general manager of The Plaza at Harmon Meadow — one of the three Fan Express stops in New Jersey — said that he capped the number of fans who could depart from the property at 700, with the NFL planning to use 16 buses.
“But they didn’t even sell out the four (buses) that they had there,” Gentile said. “I think they had a total usage of 91 people.”
Dan Farley, general manager of the Newark Liberty Airport Marriott, another Fan Express site, also said there were unexpectedly low numbers.
“We were hoping for more than 1,000 people, given the opportunity for additional food and beverage sales, and I was surprised they only got 350 to 375,” Farley said.
Gentile said he was able to monitor sales on the Fan Express website in the week leading up to the game, and that the Hanover Marriott — the other New Jersey Fan Express site — also did not appear to be filling its buses that departed from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Gentile said some of the New York sites appeared to do a bit better.
Figures for Manhattan usage — gathering places included the Waldorf Astoria, the Time Warner Center, and Grand Central Terminal — were not available.
With many tickets changing hands repeatedly before the game, it’s unclear why fans made the transportation choices they made. But it is clear that many of those who ended up with tickets on game day chose to heed the advice of officials and rely on mass transit to get to MetLife Stadium and back.
State Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson said last week that NJ Transit officials informed him that they had been told by NFL officials that the maximum train ridership would not exceed 16,000.
The NFL did not return repeated calls for comment for this story.
Mara, however, blamed NJ Transit for the discrepancy between earlier estimates and the actual train ridership. He said he hoped that the transportation issues last Sunday would not harm the state’s chances of hosting another Super Bowl.
“The train situation was unfortunate, and we all need to do a better job with that if we ever host another game,” Mara said. “It’s the first time we’re doing this, and I hope we have the chance to do it again. I’m still very confident the other (NFL) owners looked at this as a successful week.”
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Mara was not alone in placing blame on NJ Transit.
State Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge, said last week that the Denver Broncos, who lost 43-8 to the Seattle Seahawks, “weren’t the only ones who delivered a disappointing performance at the Super Bowl.”
“If NJ Transit officials don’t explain themselves immediately, I will make sure they do when they appear before my committee for budget hearings next month,” Sarlo said. Sarlo is chairman of the Senate budget committee.
On Wednesday, state Sen. Bob Gordon, D-Fair Lawn, the chairman of the Legislative Oversight Committee, said that an NJ Transit-focused hearing next month would be expanded to include questions about Super Bowl train transportation.
And Monday, Simpson, the transportation commissioner, said he had created an investigative committee to look at how NJ Transit handled transportation on Super Bowl Sunday.
There were numerous indications that the yearlong estimates of about 12,000 parking spaces being in use on Super Bowl Sunday were inaccurate. Beyond the packed trains, the roads surrounding MetLife Stadium were lightly traveled.
Jim Kirkos, president of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce, said Paterson Plank Road was “eerily quiet” at 3 p.m. — 3 1/2 hours before the game — as he rode from the tailgate party in East Rutherford to Redd’s Restaurant in Carlstadt.
Even at 4 p.m., when Kirkos rode the short distance on Paterson Plank Road from Redd’s to MetLife Stadium, Kirkos said he counted “about five cars” on either side of the road before entering the stadium complex. And riding across the parking lots toward Quest Diagnostics Center near Route 3, Kirkos said, “The lots were, for the most part, fairly empty.”
There do not appear to have been any major backups on the roads even closer to game time.
“The traffic levels were not bad,” said New Jersey State Police Capt. Stephen Jones. “It was much less than for a normal game.”