The Super Bowl Public Transit Gaffe

Posted on February 4, 2014 | in Football, Lean Oops, Lean Wastes, PDSA, Problem Solving, Quality, Safety, Sponsorships, Sports, Transportation, Waiting | by
super bowl new york train transit crowd

The crowds leaving the Super Bowl on Sunday were just as big and just as delayed as those trying to get to the game.

One of the big issues with New York hosting the Super Bowl was the intense security and limited access to the stadium grounds (no cars allowed, can’t walk to the stadium) and how that would increase the use of public transit like buses, trains, and the subway for fans going to the game. It was clear that the league was not prepared for the flow of patrons using the limited transportation before the game, but what was even worse was the league’s failure to not quickly learn and adapt to the known demand of transportation needs after the game.

First, before the game the league gave NJ Transit (the trains) bad information based off of a bad estimate.

It’s the Super Bowl, and you’d hope the folks running the trains would have seen the crowd coming—especially since round-trip tickets from New York were $10.50, compared to $51 for a shuttle bus. But NJ Transit was caught off-guard, in part to poor communication from the NFL. The league told NJ Transit to expect between 12,000 and 15,000 riders—they got double.

This was a major screw-up on the NFL’s part. It was overseeing the shuttle bus program, and knew how many fans had bought tickets.

The league justified its poor estimate with some really, really poor math. How can this be expected and permitted from a high ranking NFL official? Here is NFL VP of Business Operations Eric Grubman:

“My understanding is that at some point in time Saturday night late or Sunday morning, the online reservations, the total number of tickets sold by New Jersey Transit, was 25, 30 percent, 40 percent of what actually ended up using it. So just imagine that surge of ticket selling and how hard that is to plan for. What I believe happened is a lot of people didn’t make up their minds until the last minute as to how they were going to get there.”

But the NFL knew how many people had purchased shuttle bus ticket and how many people received a limited number of parking passes for the game. So wouldn’t the league have been able to do the math about the number of remaining people likely to take the train? Not exactly, Grubman said.

“When I do the math with the number of (parking) permits and passes that were sold to vehicles that could accommodate multiple people, really rough numbers – 1,100 buses,” he said. “Those buses are of different sizes. If they hold between 40 and 50 people fully occupied, do the math. So 50,000 plus in a bus expected, and 15,000 just for round numbers at the upper end on New Jersey Transit. You get to 65 (thousand). It’s 82 (thousand, the capacity of MetLife Stadium). It doesn’t seem like it’s out of whack.

So the NFL planned for and communicated 65K fans’ worth of transportation when 82K fans WOULD HAVE TO USE THE LIMITED TRANSPORTATION OPTIONS.

If anything, overestimate. It’s the Super Bowl – you are practically printing money. If you don’t use buses, so be it. The league’s cost is a drop in the bucket compared to the revenue generated from tickets and sponsorship sales.

And all of this was learned as fans were arriving to the game. A steady flow of patrons arriving before gametime but not all getting there at the same time. It would be even worse after the game with everyone leaving at once, wouldn’t it?

YES. From Deadspin (those infamous feather-rufflers!):

Despite knowing how bad the situation had been getting to the game, NJ Transit was unable to do much to accommodate the massive crowd all trying to leave MetLife Stadium at the same time. Announcements on the scoreboard and over the PA system urged fans to stay in their seats rather than head to the overcrowded train station. Twenty buses were finally brought in around midnight, thinning the crowd by about 1,000, but NJ Transit said it still had to deal with 33,000 fans trying to get home.

It wasn’t until 1 a.m., more than three hours after the end of the game, that the last fans were able to leave the Meadowlands.

1:00 a.m. What a disaster. The league, the NJ Transit, subways, bus dispatch, they all had three hours to figure out a transportation plan for the end of the game and not much was done. No PDSA was implemented.

So apparently the league thinks there’s a lot to learn from this. Grubman again:

“The first question we would ask is: How do we plan for moving double the number of people through Secaucus Junction?” Grubman said. “And how do we plan for multiple backups of buses? We are getting pretty good at contingency planning. We need to put more elements into that contingency planning. A week or two ago, we were all talking about weather contingency planning. We had lots of plans for all the things that we couldn’t control related to weather. Next time, we’ll have lots of plans for all the things that we can’t control in planning and anticipate related to transportation.”

How do you figure, Mr. Grubman? This is the crown jewel sporting event in your sport, and the lack of preparedness is inexcusable. It’s not up to Mother Nature whether contingency plans go into place here. This was poor planning for logistics. Between the transportation problems and Bruno Mars, the game really took a backseat to everything going on around it and that is a supreme disappointment.

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