For the second time in about two weeks, NJ Transit and the NFL declined an invitation to testify before the Assembly Transportation Committee about the mass transit nightmare after the Super Bowl that left thousands of commuters stranded for hours. Those who did talk about the issue suggested the so-called experts should have seen the problem coming.

(Kevin McArdle, Townsquare Media NJ)
Assemblyman John Wisniewski (center) and Assembly GOP Leader Jon Bramnick (right) talk before the Assembly Transportation Committee hearing Monday.

According to Ron Simoncini, president of Axiom Communications, which represents the Meadowlands Liberty Convention and Visitors Bureau, neither the NFL nor NJ Transit ever budged from their estimate that 12,000 people would take the train to the game. Their calculation remained, even after it became clear that thousands more opted to ride the rails rather than pay for the more expensive bus tickets.

“They never thought about it that ‘Gee that could mean 30,000 people,’” Simoncini said. “They just wrote 12,000 people down and it just kept being 12,000 people from the train.”

Poor planning and late preparation appear to have been another issue, in Simoncini’s opinion.

“On Jan. 9 were you guys still trying to figure out how to get people from the hotels to the game,” Simoncini asked. “The answer is, ‘yes.' You've got 8,400 hotels in the region and you’re not sure how a lot of those people are getting to the game. It’s very late to be addressing that at that time, yes.”

Another expert who testified said NJ Transit was well aware of how many people it could move on the rails to and from the game.

(Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media)

“We always knew that Secaucus Transfer and the rail station at the sports complex can move 12,000 people an hour,” said Jim Kirkos, Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce president. “That’s it. That’s its capacity; 12,000 people an hour and at the end of the day it moved 12,000 people an hour, but it took three hours to move 35,000 people.”

The chairman of the committee, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) expressed disappointment that the NFL and NJ Transit did not testify, but he also said he is hopeful one or both will address the panel in the near future.

"We saw what happened at the Super Bowl almost as an advertisement as to why you should not take the train," Wisniewski said. "In a sense, New Jersey shot itself in the foot by having this bad outcome."

The vice chair of the committee likened the debacle to an old-time comedy routine.

"The classic Abbott and Costello 'Who's On First' skit comes to mind, in terms of transportation planning," said Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Scotch Plains).

The board at NJ Transit is conducting its own probe of the Super Bowl transportation problems.