After an almost two-year pandemic delay, sports fans are not only back in the stands, but they’ve made a return nationwide to transit buses, trains, and paratransit vehicles.
With Major League Baseball and other sports leagues hosting games and venues ramping up fan attendance, transit operators are working overtime to get riders hyped up for safer and more efficient travel.
“As you’ll see, the common theme is welcoming fans back, reminding them of the public transit options available to the ball game, and why it is not only the most cost-effective way, but environmentally friendly,” said Michael Cortez, a media relations analyst for New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). “There have only been a few April games [with fans in attendance] so far, but there has been a decent increase, along with ridership overall.”
Last month, in an effort to encourage baseball fans to take public transit to Citi Field ahead of the New York Mets’ home opener on April 8, MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye and Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) President Phil Eng held the agency’s first-ever rolling news conference, aboard a Citi Field-bound train and LIRR train to see who would arrive first.
In addition to the rolling news conference, MTA Chairman Foye appeared on the Citi Field jumbotron with a message reminding riders to take public transit. (Watch the PSA below.)
“The PSA was designed to welcome fans back to the stadiums since they were not allowed in last year and was created to promote mass transit usage to get around the city as well as to games,” Cortez told METRO.
While there are no plans to create additional PSAs at this time, the MTA recently launched a broader “#TakeTheTrain, #TakeTheBus” campaign on May 16, with the idea of supporting events that take place throughout the city with transit service but not including paid sponsorships to offer service.
In terms of safety and frequency of game-day service (based on current COVID-19 restrictions), Citi Field informs the MTA of the maximum allowable attendance at games so the agency can set its service levels accordingly and account for social distancing.
For the home opener on April 8, the capacity at Citi Field was set at 20%, with 8,384 fans permitted into the stadium.
“The higher the attendance,” Cortez says, “the more trains we’ll run.”
Cortez said riders can feel more “empowered” by relying on real-time capacity trackers installed on some of MTA’s vehicles, as the technology allows them to choose cars that have more available seating/space.
On May 10, the MTA recorded its highest single-day ridership totals since the start of the pandemic in New York, and for buses, since front-door boarding resumed on Aug. 31.
Meanwhile, in California, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (L.A. Metro) is focusing on the continuation of its Dodger Stadium Express bus service to transport fans. Last year, the service was cancelled for the first time in 11 years due to the pandemic.
During the Dodgers home opener on April 9, L.A. Metro began operating its Dodger Stadium Express service on a modified level, according to Rick Jager, the agency’s communications manager. Approximately 15,000 fans were in attendance for the home opener.
“In 2019, the last full year we conducted the service, we transported more than 150,000 baseball fans,” Jager told METRO. “This year, we’re not seeing that type of ridership being reflected just yet.”
The service is still operating like previous years, running from Union Station in downtown L.A. and the Harbor Gateway Transit Center every 20 minutes, and free for all riders who have tickets to the game. The only thing different this year, Jager said, is a more “unusual season,” as more safety protocols and precautions are in place.
Like many other transit agencies across the U.S., L.A. Metro is working to boost its ridership back up to pre-pandemic levels and promoting the safety of public transit among its riders.
“Right now, L.A. Metro is operating at about 80% of its pre-pandemic service,” Jager said. “We’ll continue monitoring game attendance to determine our services for the Dodger Express. Our board is also looking into plans for a fareless transit system, which would start in August, dedicated to students and low-income riders.”
If the fareless transit plan is successful, Jager said the agency would look into adopting a fareless transit system for all its riders, including those looking for game-day service.