Metro Transit sent 12 people to Houston this month to research how transit operated amid the Super Bowl at NRG Stadium and festivities leading up to the big game.
The price tag was $22,881 — $10,852 of which was paid by the Department of Homeland Security. The remainder of $12,029 was covered by Metro Transit's operating budget, according to spokesman Howie Padilla, who attended.
None of those traveling to Texas attended the game between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons, except for a police lieutenant who was at the stadium on game day working on a special program with other law enforcement.
Staff traveling to Houston included representatives from rail and bus street operations, rail and bus control centers and the Metro Transit Police Department, plus a special-events specialist and a marketing and customer-service representative.
"It was eye-opening," said Mark Benedict, Metro Transit's director of light rail operations. "The purpose, in a nutshell, was to observe transit and security demands firsthand."
A key takeaway was that the festivities begin two weeks ahead of the game, scheduled for Feb. 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium. So transit needs to adapt well beyond gameday service to the stadium, and existing transit customers need attention, too.
"The density of our crowds will be much tighter here," Benedict said, noting that Houston is much more spread out geographically.
In Houston, the Metrorail Red Line serves NRG Stadium, although LRT passengers have to walk a bit from the LRT stop to the stadium. Several bus lines serve the stadium.
Because many activities occurred in downtown Houston, including those at the George R. Brown Convention Center, the city's transit system was widely used to carry fans before gameday.
Houston's transit authority recorded more than 700,000 boardings on light rail and shuttle buses during the nine days leading up to the Super Bowl, breaking ridership records. Four of the five highest single-day ridership numbers in Metrorail history occurred from Wednesday, Feb. 1, through Saturday, Feb. 4, when riders set a record high of 109,500. In addition, Houston's newest rail lines saw three consecutive days of their highest single-day ridership.
U.S. Bank Stadium is known for being transit friendly. It has its own LRT stop for both the Green and Blue lines. Each Metro Transit train has three cars, while the sole LRT line serving NRG Stadium in Houston runs two-car trains, Padilla said. Typically, 20 to 23 percent of Vikings fans use transit to get to U.S. Bank Stadium.
Metro Transit officials will have to figure out how to help out-of-towners learn how the transit system works.
"There were always people [in Houston] — staff and volunteers — out and about who were identifiable to answer questions," said Brian Funk, Metro Transit's deputy chief overseeing bus operations.
One huge difference between the cities: Surface parking lots are available around NRG Stadium, which is not the case in downtown Minneapolis — although those who drive will have access to several parking garages.
Later this month, representatives from the National Football League will visit the Twin Cities to meet with Metro Transit officials and others to discuss a Super Bowl transit plan.