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Can the 'Mass Transit Super Bowl' Withstand a Little Snow?

It was just yesterday that organizers of Super Bowl XLVII staged an event at a New Jersey Transit station to herald the game as the “first mass transit Super Bowl,” with more than 70 percent of the 80,000 spectators expected to arrive at MetLife Stadium by public transportation. “People should put the getting around in the hands of professionals,” Alfred Kelly, the chief executive of the host committee, told reporters.

Today, after a light dusting of snow caused 45-minute delays on New Jersey’s commuter rail network, those with tickets to the February event have reason to worry. If a few flakes can gum up the daily flow, what’s going to happen if the region gets a Super Bowl blizzard?

Transportation officials from New York and New Jersey have organized a “Fan Express” bus service from nine pick-up spots in the two states, special unlimited ride cards for trains and buses, and prohibitions on tailgating and drop-offs at the stadium. Those plans are likely to come under heavy pressure should the weather take a wintry turn. “If it’s snowing in such a way as to really incapacitate the street system then, yes, there’s going to be a lot of frustrated people,” says Rachel Weinberger, director of research and policy strategy at Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates. “But the bottom line is: There’s no better way to do it.”

Commuters can take heart that a Super Bowl stadium’s worth of people cross from New Jersey to the heart of Manhattan on public transit every weekday during rush hour. “Moving people in and out of Manhattan every day is a much bigger lift,” says Weinberger. On an average business day in 2011, 88,034 of the 95,886 people who commute across the Hudson River by tunnel or ferry from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. used public transit, according to data (PDF) from the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council. If you expand that rush-hour window to run from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., the number jumps to 198,416, out of 222,049 commuters.

The Super Bowl crush, in other words, is what New York City workers call Tuesday—and as any one of them will tell you, Tuesdays can be a real unprintable expletive.

Boudway is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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