Super Bowl Sunday is shaping up as the Super Bowl of busing.
Walk through the diesel fumes wafting up from the San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium parking lot on game day and you'll find:
A fleet of 300 yellow school buses that will shuttle flag carriers, piano players, the Rockettes, marching bands and other pregame and halftime entertainers between the stadium and staging areas around the city.
Early on game day, 174 city buses will move an army of peanut vendors, ushers and other stadium employees from a second set of staging areas. And as the kickoff nears, the city buses will provide public transportation--at $5 a passenger--to the game.
About 550 luxury coaches--some with air conditioning, stocked bars, televisions and on-board entertainment--will ferry out-of-town fans to the stadium from hotels, restaurants and airports throughout Southern California.
That is far more buses than the record 141 vehicles that squeezed into the stadium bus parking lot during the Charger's recent National Football League game with the Denver Broncos, according to stadium manager Bill Wilson. It is also far more than the record 200 buses that traveled to last year's sold-out Holiday Bowl college game, Wilson said.
Taken for a Ride?
Anyone hoping to rent a luxury coach at this late date would have to go to northern Los Angeles--and possibly out of state--because all of San Diego's buses were spoken for several months ago. Not surprisingly, the National Football League and the nonprofit San Diego Super Bowl Task Force have been contacted by irate customers who believe they are being taken for a ride by greedy bus owners.
Buses will be the preferred method of transit for two-thirds of the roughly 74,000 fans who will attend the game, according to city officials. The city will charge bus drivers $75 in advance--$100 on Super Bowl Sunday--to park in the lot at the stadium.
The fan who drives won't find much room to park because the stadium's inner parking ring and two other parking areas will be occupied by corporate hospitality tents, ABC-TV's broadcasting equipment, limousine parking and additional space for more buses.
The task force has even set up a special hospitality tent for the 1,000 bus drivers. "They'll be able to eat all they want, we'll have several big-screen televisions and we'll be giving away prizes," said Gus Zemba, president of Kopecky Bus Lines and chairman of the San Diego Super Bowl transportation task force.
Consequently, the stadium parking lot, which normally has 18,500 spots for cars, will have only 10,000 parking spots, according to Wilson.
Certain kinds of buses will be in as short a supply as parking spots at the stadium, according to Zemba.
Private school-bus companies have more than enough buses to carry entertainers to and from the stadium. And, the city system has enough buses to provide public transportation.
But nearly half of the coaches that roll into the stadium on game day will come from Los Angeles and Orange counties because "there just aren't enough luxury buses in San Diego," Zemba said.
Then again, even Los Angeles didn't have enough luxury coaches to carry fans to and from the Rose Bowl--and around town during Super Bowl week--during the 1987 version of the Game to End All Games. When the supply of coaches in Los Angeles was gone, customers were forced to deal with coach companies in Orange County and San Diego.
No Super Windfall
Interestingly, the Super Bowl by itself isn't enough to create an economic windfall for bus operators, because most coaches are rented on weekends by skiers and tour groups, according to Zemba.
However, bus companies will benefit from having their fleets rented during the week before the big game. "It's like a weekend that lasts for seven or eight days," according to David Callender, president of Sundance Stage Lines.
For example, the task force used about 40 buses to carry visiting reporters to Tijuana for Wednesday's media party. Twenty-five buses and dozens of limos will transport select revelers to the NFL's "official" party on North Island tonight.
For most of the past week, buses have been carrying Super Bowl tourists to attractions around the county. Additional coaches are needed to move large groups of travelers to and from Lindbergh Field, Zemba said.
The Super Bowl's economic impact on the county's bus companies will be determined through an NFL-funded survey analyzing all the financial benefits associated with playing the game in San Diego, Zemba said.
Zemba said his committee will try to ensure that NFL executives and team owners leave San Diego with a good impression. "We worked for 4 1/2 years to get this game and we want them to come back," Zemba said.
Aware that price gouging has become a problem, the task force has asked local bus companies to adhere to a "standard maximum daily rate" of $780 on game day.
But the suggested rates have not stopped some companies from engaging in what Zemba described as "excessive pricing."
The task force will publicize the names of bus companies that stray too far from the accepted guidelines. However, "we're not a police state, so we can't stop people from engaging in excessive pricing," Zemba said.
Additionally, the task force's suggested pricing scheme applies only to buses owned and operated by San Diego companies. Zemba's Kopecky Bus Lines, for example, will charge the suggested maximums for its 24 luxury coaches. And, San Diego-based Sundance Stage Lines will stick to the guidelines for its 31 buses, according to a spokesman.
But bus owners in Orange and Los Angeles counties will be allowed to charge as much as $1,200 a day because "they do have added costs, like putting the driver up overnight, and the time involved in getting to and from San Diego," Zemba said.
Out-of-town operators could find themselves being singled out for gouging if their prices move up toward "$1,500 or $1,700, which really is excessive pricing," Zemba said.
Zemba already has helped a handful of irate travel planners at major corporations around the country who were being gouged by travel agencies that act as middlemen between travel planners and bus operators.
Zemba directed those planners to "skip the middlemen" and deal directly with bus companies that would offer buses at a more modest price.
However, some gouging will go undetected because "if the company that rents the bus is willing to pay the price, we'll never hear about it," Zemba said.
To learn how other cities have coped with Super Bowl-sized traffic problems, Zemba traveled to Los Angeles, San Francisco and New Orleans when those municipalities hosted the Super Bowl. He attended the championship games at each city and spent several days with transportation planners.
Zemba credits the San Diego task force with exposing at least two scams that have surfaced.
The committee recently stopped one would-be entrepreneur from cornering the market on the $75 parking passes that bus drivers must display in order to park their vehicles at the stadium on game day. The unidentified Los Angeles resident wanted to buy all of the bus passes available--and be granted a discount because he was "dealing in volume," Zemba said.
"I was not very pleasant with my response because he wasn't very pleasant when I told him no," Zemba added.
Zemba also shut down a Los Angeles limousine operator who "has been telling limo operators in L.A. that he has the (franchise) to sell parking permits for the Super Bowl. Of course he's got no franchise to do that."
Zemba and Wilson believe San Diego has anticipated most of the problems that will be generated by the weeklong flow of Super Bowl visitors. Zemba cautioned, however, that "any time you get a good number of people who don't know their way around town, things can happen."
In recent days, the transportation task force has moved to an operations center atop a new building in Mission Valley, near Interstate 8. The space, donated by Homart Development Co., has been filled with a telephone bank staffed by volunteers who will try to sort out transportation-related problems.
The city will designate special entrances and exits for buses, and every bus and coach passenger will be given printed instructions on how to find their bus after the game--or one of the corporate parties that will wind down late at night.
Passengers who miss their buses "will be on their own," Zemba said. "They'll have to hitch a ride with someone else, try to catch a cab, or whatever. I can't plan for them."