The recent decision by international soccer officials to hold not only some games but also the World Cup final at MetLife marks a major victory for Murphy, a Democrat with national ambitions and co-owner of a professional women’s soccer team. But it raises the stakes for one of the two-term governor’s top priorities since he took office: fixing New Jersey’s public transportation.
Taking people to and from MetLife (the New Jersey stadium that is home to both the New York Jets and the New York Giants) has caused major disasters for NJ Transit in the past. The country’s third-largest transportation system is also struggling with current financial uncertainty. It now faces a $1 billion budget shortfall next year and has no plan to close the gap, even after announcing rate increases this winter.
The stadium, which will be renamed New York, New Jersey Stadium for the World Cup, is just six miles from Manhattan’s Central Park, but it might as well be on another planet. It is surrounded by industrial sites and wetlands that have served as the backdrop of Hollywood for generations, most famously in “The Godfather” (
“Leave the gun, take the cannoli”). A spaghetti-shaped road network surrounds the stadium, but there is only one way in or out by rail, aboard a rail line with limited service and no direct connection to New York City.
People were stranded for hours in the stadium after the
Super Bowl 2014 (when the state was met with “Jersey sucks” chants) and again in 2019,
following WWE’s WrestleMania 35. It wasn’t all the agency’s fault (WrestleMania ran two hours later than planned, which was especially unexpected for a scripted sport), but the transit agency and the state took the blame.
Now, New Jersey officials will have to prepare for repeated crowds of soccer fans when MetLife hosts eight World Cup matches in 2026, including the July 19 final. That likely means Taylor Swift-sized crowds for days and the biggest attention ever shown to the state of New Jersey: Some 1.5 billion people watched the 2022 World Cup.
Murphy promised to put the transit agency “on steroids” for the World Cup. By then he will have left office, but what happens will be a test of his legacy on traffic issues, an area in which he has been villainous in recent months. The state has partnered with New York as the dual host of the soccer tournament.
Faced with immediate questions about whether NJ Transit is up to the job, Murphy and transit officials variously cited the successful handling of record-breaking events last summer, including Swift’s tour and other major shows by Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran, his native son Bruce Springsteen and K-pop. band TWICE.
“We look forward to not only offering a seamless transportation experience for fans around the world, but we also want everyone to know that the fan experience will begin as soon as they board their NJ TRANSIT train or bus,” said CEO the agency, Kevin Corbett.
Unlike Swift’s stay, which took place over a long weekend when train and bus service could be easily adjusted, the mix of World Cup games being played at MetLife includes several mid-season games. week, creating a conflict between the demands of visitors from around the world. the world and New Jersey commuters, most of whom head to New York City for work.
Traffic was one of the issues bidders had to resolve when they applied to host games, said Zoe Baldwin, New Jersey director of the Regional Plan Association, a venerable nonprofit that has helped shape the infrastructure throughout the New York City region.
“I’m confident the state is taking this seriously,” Baldwin said. “But I am concerned that the focus on public transportation now is on people going to a special event rather than focusing on the long-term health of the system for the people who use it every day.”
Last summer, in anticipation of the World Cup, NJ Transit began spending tens of millions of dollars to improve the bus route between MetLife and one of its major train stations in nearby Secaucus.
Visitors from around the world (some of them presumably from Berlin, London and Paris, places known for their mass transit options) are likely to get a full taste of the New York region’s dysfunctional transportation system, of which NJ Transit is a only a part.
So far, the two agencies most likely to transport fans between Manhattan and New Jersey (the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and NJ Transit) are still in the early stages of World Cup planning, although they have worked together. in the past about important events. The Port Authority will work with local, state and federal officials on the plans and will likely establish some type of task force to handle the planning. Amtrak also operates trains in and out of Manhattan.
The 2026 World Cup, which will be played in 11 cities across the US, Canada and Mexico, will be co-hosted at MetLife in New York and New Jersey. For fans staying in the city, you’ll likely have to deal with at least two, and maybe three or more, different transportation systems to get in and out of New York and through New Jersey to MetLife.
To get there from Manhattan, perhaps football fans will take a NJ Transit bus to MetLife, traveling back and forth through a 70-year-old Port Authority bus terminal that will be in the early stages of a $10 renovation. billion, although bus service is expected. to continue uninterrupted. Or maybe they need to take the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority subway to a Port Authority train under the Hudson River, then a NJ Transit train, then a NJ Transit bus to MetLife.
Even transit officials who never paid much attention to football, like Port Authority Chairman Kevin O’Toole, understand that the spotlight is now on them.
“It makes the Super Bowl look like a flag football game,” he said.