A New Jersey legislative committee was rebuffed again Monday in its attempts to get answers to why thousands of train-riding football fans were stranded for hours after last month's Super Bowl, even as the committee's chairman appeared to shift some of the blame from the state's transit agency to the National Football League.
For the second time in less than a month, the NFL, New Jersey Transit and the local Super Bowl host committee declined to send representatives to the hearing sponsored by the Assembly transportation committee. A scheduled Feb. 24 hearing was canceled when those parties, including outgoing NJ Transit executive director James Weinstein, said they wouldn't attend.
Since then, Weinstein resigned and was replaced by former Turnpike Authority chief Veronique Hakim. In a letter to committee chairman John Wisniewski dated Friday, Hakim asked for "reasonable time so that I can be in a position to provide the Committee with meaningful testimony."
While Wisniewski called Weinstein's last-minute decision to skip last month's hearing "reprehensible," he questioned how much the NFL's policies played a role in what fellow committee member Assemblywoman Linda Stender likened to the "Who's On First?" comedy routine.
"We don't know because we haven't had an opportunity to hear from them," Wisniewski said. "But the testimony we heard today from individuals is that the NFL dictated many of the protocols that New Jersey Transit had to follow. They were really put into a box where they had to use only rail, they had a rail facility that only could process 12,000 to 13,000 people per hour and when they realized they had 30,000 people coming through that train station, there was no other way to fix it. I think that was unfair to New Jersey Transit and I'd like to hear from them to understand exactly what they did to try and solve that problem."
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy declined to comment when asked about Wisniewski's remarks or whether the league would send a representative to a future committee meeting.
About 33,000 people took the 7-mile ride between MetLife Stadium and the Secaucus rail transfer station, more than double the highest estimates made by organizers and transportation experts before the game. The overcrowding on the platform grew so severe immediately following the game that the stadium scoreboard flashed a sign asking fans to remain inside.
Weinstein said the next day that NJ Transit had 100 buses on standby in case there was a problem with the trains, but that only about 30 were deployed.
Billed as the first mass-transit Super Bowl, the game differed significantly from a standard Giants or Jets game because far fewer parking spots were available due to security considerations. The Super Bowl host committee provided roundtrip "Fan Express" buses from six locations in New York City and three in New Jersey for $51, about five times the cost of a roundtrip train ticket.
Speaking at Monday's hearing, marketing expert Ron Simoncini, who worked with several northern New Jersey towns on Super Bowl-related events, said it was unclear until the days leading up to the game how local hotel guests could get to the game, given that NFL rules prohibited anyone from walking onto the site or being dropped off by a bus or limo. Parking passes for the game cost $150, with scalpers getting upward of $300.
"A lot of things with this game seemed to be decided on the run," he said.
Sal Gentile, a senior vice president at Hartz Mountain, which owns the Harmon Meadow hotel, retail and dining complex in Secaucus, said ticket reseller StubHub provided ground transportation to and from the game for several thousand of its customers that operated smoothly, while fewer than 100 people took Fan Express buses from a designated stop in Harmon Meadow.
A spokeswoman for the host committee didn't return an email seeking comment.