The case of Super Bowl XLVIII vs. New Jersey Transit

The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

The Super Bowl and its high-toned attendees are introduced to New Jersey Transit.

SB Nation 2014 NFL Playoff Coverage

There was always the mooing guy. This is not just a New Jersey thing, I'm sure. Although it seems worth noting that the only place I have experienced The Mooing Guy phenomenon — and experienced it again and again — was in the bottleneck waiting to walk through the pedestrian bridge that spans Route 120 and connects the parking lot of MetLife Stadium to the parking lot of the Izod Center, which had a number of different names back when the Nets still played there.

This was, fundamentally, just a case of trying to fit 10 pounds of humanity into a 5-pound bag, and so in that sense had the same origins as the transit nightmare endured by people trying to travel from New York City to MetLife Stadium — which is in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and separated from the delightful brand-interaction fan experience of Super Bowl Boulevard in Manhattan by eight miles and one fairly large river — and back again. The unavoidable congestion created by this too-many-people/too-little-space issue was exactly as annoying as you'd expect: thousands of people funneled down and then down again until they could fit up a comparatively narrow flight of stairs and onto the walkway, which was packed and poorly graffiti-ed and piss-smelling and otherwise awful. It made sense that someone would liken the scenario to that of cows at a slaughterhouse, and so decide to make with the mooing. It was never funny, not the dozens of times that I heard it, but it was never exactly inaccurate.

So one thing that I wondered, while watching the mass transit clusterfuck surrounding Super Bowl XLVIII, was whether one of the afflicted out-of-towners thought to let out a moo. That and whether, after an hour waiting to pass through a security checkpoint or one of the many pedestrian chokepoints leading to them, that cattle-y lowing just came out naturally, and how loud it got.

So, here is how this sort of thing happens, in no particular order.

NFL is going to NFL

It is probably unfair to compare Roger Goodell to Vladimir Putin, if only because Goodell has never been photographed shirtless while karate-kicking a bear in the face, and there were dozens of photos taken of Putin doing that to multiple different bears in the last two weeks alone. Also the anti-gay laws in Goodell's NFL are more of the unspoken kind than the ones in Putin's Russia. Also a bunch of other things, honestly.

Still, neither Russia's reptilian autocrat nor his NFL counterpart are opposed to hilariously comprehensive security measures or the odd bit of profit-taking where their big events are concerned. A goodly portion of Super Bowl Sunday's transit backup owed to lengthy delays at the security checkpoints at the train station in Secaucus, where fans traveling from New York City's Penn Station changed to the train line that would take them to MetLife Stadium. That experience of walking very slowly in a large group while surrounded by heavily armed men was, it turned out, more or less what the rest of their Super Bowl experience would be like. There were more than 700 New Jersey State Troopers patrolling the parking lot at MetLife Stadium, including SWAT units, and more than 3,000 private security personnel inside the stadium.

These are not just numbers. The security cordon for the Super Bowl not only curtailed any expression of Jersey's distinctive tailgate culture — forget mainstays like bracchiole or suckling pigs going in the parking lot, fans weren't even allowed to sit in folding chairs near their cars — but shrunk the parking capacity for the game by nearly half. This was not exactly unforeseeable — everyone knew that 80,000 or so people were going to attend the game on Sunday night, and the NFL's security restrictions capped parking spots at 13,000. So.

Other distinctions, all similarly arbitrary and self-defeating, made things even more difficult for fans. New Jersey people could be forgiven a few wry chuckles when out-of-town types clucked at the NFL's prohibition on fans walking to the game — MetLife Stadium sits at the fulcrum of several roaring highways, and is in the middle of a sprawling wetlands that, regardless of the weather, smells like a robust quinoa fart. This — MetLife Stadium itself and this swampy stretch of North Jersey in general — is no place for pedestrians.

But the NFL also banned cabs and limousines and any other vehicle without a parking pass from the premises, or from dropping people off outside. Suddenly the prohibition on walk-in ticket-holders seems that much more onerous. And considering that the NFL was selling MetLife parking passes for $150 — and passes were going for more than $250 on the secondary market — this made New Jersey Transit seems like a very appealing option. This despite the fact that it is 1) a mass transit service that is 2) administered by the state of New Jersey.

The NFL did not really expect people to take mass transit

The NFL did its utmost to make sure that anyone taking anything but New Jersey Transit to the game would pay out the [insert most unpleasant orifice through which to pass money here]. A parking pass for a limo was $200. For a mini-bus it was $250. For an actual bus it was $350. Just parking your car at Secaucus Junction and getting on one of the shuttles to MetLife Stadium would cost at least $80. Even a round trip on the coach buses the NFL ran out of New York City cost $51.

All of those, if you were curious, cost more than a weeklong "Super Pass" from New Jersey Transit, which guaranteed buyers unlimited rides within New Jersey on all New Jersey Transit buses, trains and light rail, and from New York City and Newark Airport; New Jersey Transit also did not mark up rates at any of its parking facilities simply because of the thousands of people suddenly trying to get to the most important football game of the year. (Gov. Chris Christie also spent much of the week encouraging fans to take NJ Transit to the game, but no one really listens to that guy).

You are getting the idea. Or two ideas, probably. One was that the NFL was not ashamed to try to make as much money off access to this particular Super Bowl as possible. The other idea was that this would be, as New Jersey Transit's website rather poignantly put it, "the first mass transit Super Bowl." And yet the number of people that the NFL estimated would use NJ Transit — which was the number of passengers that NJ Transit prepared for — was exceeded by more than 400 percent. Of course, also...

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New Jersey Transit is going to New Jersey Transit

If you want to imagine New Jersey, one of the more representative images would be that of an exasperated person in a used sedan who is extravagantly cursing out another exasperated person in a used sedan because that person is attempting to violate the rules of an alternate merge. The Garden State spends a lot of time in cars, and a lot of time complaining. One of the journalists responsible for breaking the story of the idiotic conspiracy within Gov. Christie's office to intentionally snarl traffic on the approach to the George Washington Bridge was a writer for my hometown paper whose entire beat is writing about traffic.

Jerseyfolk that spend a lot of time riding NJ Transit tend to complain about it, too. Exhibit A would be @jayg33 above, who bravely puts NJ Transit on blast for not being able to handle the tens of thousands of passengers it saw on Super Bowl Sunday. There are a lot of Jersey people on Twitter making more or less the same joke right now: if you think NJ Transit sucked on Super Bowl Sunday, you should see it [any other day of the week]. From my limited recent experience with it and extensive experience earlier in life, NJ Transit works about as well and about as poorly as any under-funded public service — pretty well much of the time, supremely poorly some of the time, amid constant carping criticism all of the time.

And, to be fair to @jayg33, NJ Transit duffed this one pretty hard. As fair — hell, as necessary — as it is to blame the NFL for pushing the outer boundaries of price-gouging for its signature event and leaving its estimate so wildly short, it is also worth criticizing New Jersey Transit for being unprepared for what was, in the end, a not-unexpected crush of people trying to get from New York City to a football game in New Jersey. New Jersey Transit was prepared to handle 10,000 to 12,000 train passengers, and got many times that amount. What happened next — which involved fans fainting while waiting in stifling crowds for their NFL-administered friskings before making their connections from Secaucus to MetLife Stadium — was what logically would have happened next.

One thing that might have helped would have been if New Jersey Transit was allowed to run bus service from Manhattan's Port Authority Bus Terminal to MetLife Stadium. This happens to be a trip with which your author is very familiar, having taken the bus from New York to something like 700 New Jersey Nets games in his lifetime. The trip was fast, inexpensive, and proudly beer-positive — to-go tall boys were available at Meet Me At McAnn's in Port Authority and consumable on New Jersey Transit buses; they were, also, the only beers that one could purchase at the otherwise intensely depressing McAnn's without immediately contemplating suicide.

All in all, though, it was a good deal. If you took that trip today, it would cost $9.40 and require nothing more than a walk over the (much-improved!) new version of that moo-inspiring pedestrian walkway over Route 120. Naturally this option was unavailable on Super Bowl Sunday. The only buses going to the game were those run by the NFL, or charters paying $350 for one of the relatively few parking spots available.

New Jersey Transit absolutely should have been prepared for more passengers than the NFL anticipated — the NFL's assumption that three times as many people would go to the game on their more-expensive buses than by train is rather darkly hilarious in retrospect. But New Jersey Transit was also hamstrung by the NFL's various restrictions, and more generally by the combination of avarice and fetishized capital-s Security that created them.

One other thing that seems worthy of note: trains going between New York and New Jersey all pass through one comparatively ancient tunnel. In 2010, Gov. Christie killed a longstanding tunnel project called Access to the Region's Core that would have doubled that capacity. Despite the fact that most of the cost would be paid for by federal stimulus, and on the basis of what later turned out to be ludicrously inflated numbers, Christie deemed it fiscally irresponsible. Chris Christie's personal war against unnecessarily shitty commutes, as you have probably heard, goes on to this very day. So ...

This was all fairly predictable

To have an actual Mass Transit Super Bowl, it would be helpful to allow mass transit to function, both as it otherwise would and in the context in which it otherwise would function. By curtailing the amount of parking available — and, just as importantly, by constricting and restricting and otherwise shutting off the other methods of transit that generally make going to MetLife Stadium the already incredibly annoying experience that it is — the NFL created a supremely, aggressively unpleasant fan experience at the Super Bowl. NJ Transit, with its born loser of a name and insufficient capacity, will naturally take the lion's share of the blame.

Of course, this all sucked. It especially sucked for the fans who spent multiple unpleasant hours making a trip that takes something like 20 minutes by bus. It sucked more when they had to do the whole awful thing again while drunker, thousands of dollars poorer, and having 1) watched a football game that was competitive for exactly 12 seconds and 2) seen a shirtless 51-year-old Anthony Kiedis rap-sing about what he's got, and how you have to get it/put it in you.

That's all a bummer. The bigger bummer would be the certainty that, if the game were played again tomorrow, the NFL would do things almost exactly the same way. "Almost" because they'd probably raise the price some on those NFL-run shuttle buses. Who, after all, would want to go through the experience of a Mass Transit Super Bowl again?

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