After New York and New Jersey struggled to pull off the first "mass transit Super Bowl" Sunday, local leaders planning the upcoming Bay Area Super Bowl face a similar challenge: How to get fans from the big city -- host to most of the events and hotels -- to the actual game in the suburbs?
On Sunday, huge crowds of fans sweated out packed train stations -- some even reportedly passed out -- outside MetLife Stadium in New Jersey and waited for hours to return to New York City. With few parking spots and no drop-offs allowed at the stadium, the local transit system was overwhelmed as a record 33,000 fans rode trains to the game, more than double what organizers had estimated.
In the Bay Area, officials are already working on how to transport about 75,000 attendees between the new 49ers stadium in Santa Clara -- the site of the 50th Super Bowl in February 2016 -- and their hotels in San Francisco, which will be ground zero for a week of pregame festivities.
"We're confident we can pull it off," said Colleen Valles, a spokeswoman for the Valley Transportation Authority. "We're pretty much throwing everything we can at it." That includes a full compliment of trains and buses, tons of parking and freeway lanes dedicated to shuttles.
More than a dozen local leaders were on hand to scout Sunday's game in person, as they did last year, when a partial blackout darkened the stadium during the Super Bowl in New Orleans. At the time, the Bay Area touted its brand-new, high-tech infrastructure in promising it would keep the lights on.
This time, the issue is trickier: While this year's game featured an 8-mile trip between Super Bowl headquarters in Times Square and the stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., Super Bowl L will include a 45-mile distance between downtown San Francisco and Levi's Stadium.
There are only two freeways and one transit system that run directly between San Francisco and Santa Clara. Interstate 280 and Highway 101 each peak at 18,000 vehicles per hour each direction during slow-moving rush hour in the Peninsula, while Caltrain can carry about 5,000 riders per hour if passengers pack in tight.
But while organizers behind the New York and New Jersey game had allocated only 11,000 parking permits, the 49ers expect to have as many as 30,000 parking spaces within a mile of the new stadium. About three-quarters of fans are expected to drive to regular 49ers games.
The Bay Area Super Bowl Host Committee is still a long way from locking down its transportation plan for the big game but has hinted at launching special trains and designating highway lanes for large tech company-style shuttle buses.
While both Santa Clara officials and the committee hesitated to comment on what they learned from Sunday's game, they noted that the new stadium presents plenty of options for fans to travel.
"I think that Santa Clara is a different place and while it is served by public transit and that is going to be a huge part of that effort, I think we will have a broad approach, a multifaceted approach to transportation," said P.J. Johnston, a spokesman for the local committee, which will also be studying next year's Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.
In New York and New Jersey, the pregame problems began when more people than expected rode the train and left earlier than officials anticipated, creating crowded, hot terminals. Then after the game, so many people tried exiting at the same time that officials told some fans to stay in their seats after the game had ended.
While the NFL and local officials stressed that the transportation system eventually succeeded, the league said it learned a valuable lesson for future games.
"Next time, we'll have lots of plans for all the things we can't control and can't anticipate, related to transit," Eric Grubman, an NFL executive vice president, told reporters after the game.
For the 2016 Super Bowl and 49ers games, fans will be able to ride Caltrain down to the Mountain View station and transfer to VTA light-rail trains and buses to Levi's Stadium. Fans can also take BART around from the East Bay to the Fremont station and ride a VTA express bus the rest of the way.
VTA expects to send out enough three-car trains to carry as many as 12,000 fans on game days.
Caltrain spokeswoman Jayme Ackemann said the system carried about 70,000 one-way trips during its most recent mega-event, the 2012 Giants World Series parade in San Francisco. But more than half the riders were regular commuters, which shouldn't be an issue on Super Bowl Sunday.
And unlike sudden huge demand caused by, say, a BART strike or a championship parade, Ackemann said, for the Super Bowl "we have the advantage of a couple of years to plan."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.