The big Super Bowl traffic nightmare never happened

In the hours before the game, few -- if any -- traffic back-ups were reported around the Super Bowl. Getting there via public transport was a breeze.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Traffic has been a big topic of discussion this week. On Wednesday, I wrote a story about a group of Uber drivers going by the name of Uber Drivers United who were threatening to "shut down" the Super Bowl. Their self-described leader, Mario, is seen in a video from the initial protest last Monday yelling into a megaphone, "We’re shutting everything down. We’re not going to allow Uber to keep screwing drivers over anymore."

The following morning I received a response to a request for an interview at 5:30 a.m. Mario, who also goes by "Marco," and I spoke for the next hour. He began organizing at the San Francisco Airport last month, where Uber drivers would congregate. He says there are now two factions of disgruntled drivers. One side believes Uber drivers should "do like they did in Paris," referring to taxi drivers halting traffic and debilitating the city entirely in 2015.

While he wouldn’t say his exact plans, Mario mentioned they weren’t on the level of debilitating the Bay Area, but he claimed to have 9,000 drivers at his disposal, he said. An article in MotherJones.com says protesting drivers would communicate and turn off their Uber apps simultaneously, thereby putting a strain on the exclusive ride-share app of Super Bowl 50.

In the hour before the game kicked off, all looked smooth on the Bay Area’s major roads around Santa Clara.

Two and half hours before Sunday’s kickoff, I left from San Francisco on a BART train. The train went through Oakland, down to Fremont, then I boarded a bus to Levi’s Stadium — the most direct way by public transportation. Half an hour into the journey, however, there didn’t seem to be any more people out than on a usual Sunday, and hardly any Super Bowl fans. Organizers encouraged people to get to the stadium early — some took that as an excuse to tailgate, but it also opened up the roads. According to the CHP Twitter page just before noon, traffic was flowing smoothly until drivers reached the stadium. An organizer’s dream.

This morning, I called Mario. His phone rang a few times, then to voicemail. I tried again half an hour later, then again after that. Where was the strike? Was he waiting? When I spoke to him, I wondered whether he realized what he was up against. He was attempting to disrupt one of the largest companies in the world and the billion-dollar machine of the Super Bowl. Still, after Wednesday’s article, Uber drivers, at least online, have come out in droves in support of his mission.

FLINDER AT THE SUPER BOWL

Ninety minutes before the game, I jumped on the express bus for Super Bowl ticket holders from the Fremont stop on BART directly to the stadium. There were only four of us on the bus. Where was everyone? On the way to the stadium we passed the Tesla plant, then the suburbs around San Jose.

As we closed in on the stadium, like an oasis, the party was in full swing and had begun long before I left San Francisco. I opened the Uber app on my phone, and drivers were everywhere. If there was a strike, it hadn’t happened yet, and likely was too late.

I clicked on Mario’s number to try him one more time. He picked up.

"We’re at Candlestick Park now," he said. "We may come down to the Super Bowl. We’re waiting on people."

“How many people do you have,” I asked.

He promised to send me a picture of the scene but never did. He sounded defeated. Just 45 minutes before kickoff it was clear no one was going to disrupt this party.

Flinder Boyd is a former European professional basketball player turned writer. On Twitter he can be found @FlinderBoyd. He’s in the Bay Area all week for a series of articles on the events around Super Bowl 50.