When the Super Bowl came to MetLife Stadium a decade ago this month, NJ Transit’s shortcomings were laid bare for the entire NFL world to see.
Thousands of fans waited hours for trains as they tried to leave the big game, which the Seattle Seahawks won 43-8 over the Denver Broncos. At one point, because of crowding, fans were reportedly asked to remain in the stadium until more trains arrived. NJ Transit deployed emergency buses to help get fans home. The last stragglers weren’t picked up until around 1 a.m., three hours after the game ended.
The hassles in getting to and from the Meadowlands took on added relevance on Sunday when Mayor Eric Adams and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced that MetLife will host eight World Cup matches, including the final, in 2026. The politicians heralded the arrival of the world’s most popular sport to East Rutherford as an economic blessing that will make New York and New Jersey the “center of the soccer world.” But the news followed outrage among Garden State commuters just last month over a 15% fare hike to fill a NJ Transit budget deficit of nearly $1 billion.
Bloomfield resident Jahmilah Walker, 31, didn’t hesitate when asked if NJ Transit was up to the challenge of delivering tens of thousands of fans from around the globe to MetLife.
“Definitely not,” Walker said. “There will probably be way more crowds than they think.”
Walker said she took packed NJ Transit trains to and from two Beyonce concerts at MetLife Stadium. Several commuters at Penn Station said NJ Transit already struggles to provide basic service on a normal day.
“The trains tend to be really slow in and out of Penn Station,” said Amy Lauren, 54, of Montclair. “I’m late for work almost every morning.”
While MetLife Stadium has enough capacity for 82,500 people, its parking lots have room for 28,000 vehicles. That means tens of thousands of soccer fans traveling from around the world will need to catch NJ Transit’s trains and buses to see the World Cup games.
The transit agency has more than two years to prepare — but it’s facing a major funding crisis that has worsened in recent years.
“One of the main determinants of success for transit as we approach the World Cup is absolutely going to be whether they’re funded or not,” said Zoe Baldwin, the Regional Plan Association’s New Jersey director. “Without sustainable funding, they’re going to be taking on a massive undertaking on a shoestring budget.”
NJ Transit is currently forming a service plan for the World Cup, according to spokesperson Jim Smith. When an event at MetLife Stadium is expected to draw more than 50,000 people, NJ Transit typically runs what it calls the Meadowlands Rail Service, a shuttle train that runs every 10 to 20 minutes from Secaucus Junction directly to the stadium.
“We look forward to not only delivering a seamless transportation experience for fans from around the globe, but we want everyone to know that the fan experience will begin as soon as they board their NJ Transit train or bus,” NJ Transit President and CEO Kevin Corbett said in a statement. “Our team is already geared up to provide an incredible fan experience for FIFA World Cup 26 when the world will be riding NJ Transit.”
FIFA made no mention of public transit when explaining why the “iconic New York New Jersey Stadium” was selected to host the World Cup final. Soccer’s international governing body stated the region is home to “countless museums and has a 24-hour vibrancy” and notes the area is “older than the United States, founded by Europeans nearly 400 years ago.”
Bruce Revman and Lauren LaRusso, who are managing the World Cup’s arrival in New Jersey, said in a statement that last summer was the busiest ever for MetLife Stadium. They said the venue hosted 60 events for 3 million visitors, and pointed to last summer’s Taylor Swift concerts as evidence that NJ Transit is ready for the soccer matches.
But even the Swifties pushed the Meadowlands to its limit, prompting MetLife officials to direct fans without tickets to stay away from the stadium. Officials only allowed those with concert tickets to access the venue’s parking lots. NJ.com noted that Wrestlemania 35 in 2019 was another “infamous event” where fans waited hours to escape the stadium.
Smith, the NJ Transit spokesperson, said the agency is currently building a new ground level terminal at the Meadowlands station to ease the crowds in and out of the stadium. He said in an email the project will be completed by 2025, “well in advance of the first [World Cup] match at MetLife.”
Baldwin from the RPA noted NJ Transit’s performance during the World Cup will be judged on a global scale.
“We want our guests from all over the world to come to New Jersey to visit New York, have seamless transportation around the area and really leave with a good feeling about our region,” she said.