When Bruce Springsteen took the stage Wednesday night in the first of five concerts at Giants Stadium, fans who relied on NJ Transit for their ride home hoped they weren’t in for an encore of U2.
Just a week earlier, thousands of fans who had attended U2’s 360 Tour waited more than two hours for NJ Transit trains to clear passengers from the Meadowlands rail station after the concert.
Concertgoers complained there were too few trains, ticket vending machines, and transit staff to accommodate the large crowd. Some riders said they were left stranded after train delays at the Meadowlands station caused them to miss connecting trains in Secaucus.
“We’re learning with each experience.” – Dan Stessel
“I think it helps to put the two U2 shows in some perspective,” said NJ Transit spokesman Dan Stessel last week. “This is a new rail line that just opened in July. Since then, there have been a number of large events that took place as intended. These events would include the AC/DC concert, CONCACAF Gold Cup Soccer, Jets preseason games, and now the regular season Jets and Giants games…I think the transit experience of people who have attended these events has been much better than what people experienced after the U2 concert.”
Most of these events, Stessel said, averaged between 7,000 and 8,000 mass transit users.
U2, bigger than the Pope
The problem with the U2 shows, Stessel said, was that the band attracted more fans and transit riders than previous events. Live Nation, U2’s concert promoter, claims that 84,472 people attended the band’s Sept. 24 show. More than 80,000 people saw the band the night before. Stessel estimates that between 20,000 and 40,000 people relied on NJ Transit each night.
“This was an all-time record for this transit line and for a Meadowlands venue,” Stessel noted. “We didn’t even have that many people come to see the Pope in the ’90s when he came to Giants Stadium.”
News accounts of Pope John Paul II’s 1995 Mass at Giants Stadium put attendance at around 82,900.
Roughly 80,000 people attend Giants and Jets games.
Stessel emphasized that, despite the human congestion back-ups after the U2 shows let out, “there were no problems with the system itself. There were no disruptions. There were no signal problems. There was always a train departing, a train waiting, and a train arriving. So, the system was moving.”
He also dismissed published accounts of concertgoes who said they missed their connections or were stranded. He said one of the last trains of the night, the 12:15 a.m. from Secaucus to Port Jervis, for example, was held for 20 minutes to give people additional time to make their connection from the Meadowlands.
“It’s possible that someone got to Secaucus at 12:17, assumed they missed the 12:15 train, so went upstairs to catch a cab,” Stessel said.
It’s unclear if transit riders knew trains were being held for them.
Game day problems minimal
Football fans who rode the rails to the Meadowlands last Sunday to see the Jets defeat the Tennessee Titans said they had few complaints.
“This is actually my first time doing this,” said Brooklyn resident Bill Ott, who took NJ Transit to the game with his wife and two of their neighbors. “I wasn’t aware of the problems they had with the U2 concert. If I had known, maybe I wouldn’t have taken the train. But we took it, and it seemed fine.”
Another Jets fan, Carol Bennet, who lives in Astoria, said this was her second NJ Transit trip to the Meadowlands. Both trips were relatively smooth, she said, “but I think it took too long to buy tickets. I think more ticket windows should have been open, given there was a game going on.”
Despite long lines for tickets, Bennett said she will take NJ Transit to see the Jets play again later in the season.
Robert Warrington, a Titans fan who lives in Manhattan, took his son to last week’s game and said he had “few complaints” with the trains. “I just think the signs telling you which train goes to Secaucus could be better. But there were no problems like with the concert.”
There were no transit problems before or after the Jets game last week. Still, with the memory of the U2 shows still fresh, NJ Transit is eager to show it can move massive crowds in and out of the Meadowlands.
“We’re learning with each experience,” Stessel said.
For Wednesday’s Springsteen show, NJ Transit reinstated the No. 351 Special Events bus from the Port Authority to Giants Stadium. The bus will operate for the Boss’ shows on Oct. 2, 3, 8, and 9. The round-trip fare is $10 and customers must purchase round-trip tickets. No one-way tickets will be sold. NJ Transit is promising to run buses until every Springsteen fan has been shuttled from the stadium.
“This will give passengers another travel option and take some of the pressure off the rail system,” Stessel said.
Whether concertgoers use the 351 bus or the rails, NJ Transit urges them to buy round-rip tickets well in advance.
In addition, more trains have been added to the regular schedule and cash-only ticket booths will be available at the Secaucus station so there are more locations where people can buy tickets.
It took decades to bring rail service to the Meadowlands Sports Complex – which includes Giants Stadium, the Izod Center, and Meadowlands Racetrack. Xanadu, the $2 billion sports, entertainment, and shopping complex, which may or may not open next year, is also located here.
Rail service is seen as critical to the long-term success of Xanadu and the new Meadowlands Stadium, which will replace Giants Stadium in 2010.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.