Billy and Derek Means left Monday night’s college football championship game 15 minutes early, thinking they’d be among the first to get a cab ride away from AT&T Stadium.
Instead, the father-son duo waited outside the stadium for more than 30 minutes, among more than 200 people shouting, swearing and threatening those who dared cut in line for one of the handful of taxis that happened to drive up to the queue on the stadium’s west side.
“Not happy,” Billy Means, a Boston highway worker visiting family in Texas, said as the men finally got to the front of the line, their breath showing in the cold night air. “This is ridiculous.”
Considering the size of AT&T Stadium and the high-profile nature of the events there — including Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship won by Ohio State, 42-20, over Oregon — organizers at the venue have a terrific reputation for being able to move massive amounts of traffic. Even when the stadium is packed — 85,689 fans attended Monday’s game — it’s not unusual for most motorists to be clear of the parking lots about an hour after the conclusion.
But if Arlington’s landmark edifice has an Achilles’ heel, it might be it’s platform for taxis and other vehicles for hire.
The taxi stand, near where the Party Pass plaza empties out onto North Collins Street, is a place of occasional chaos and potential aggression. And, cab customers said, the waits in line for a ride out of the entertainment district are very long — particularly for those surrounded by fans who have had a bit much to drink, and who may be in a sour mood because their team lost.
Those who wish to get a cab ride out of Arlington’s entertainment district are asked to stand in snaky lines, shaped by portable metal barriers like those found at amusement park rides. On Monday night, handfuls of people waiting for cabs began shouting threatening remarks on several occasions, including when a group of men helping a drunk companion attempted to cut in line.
Another time, a man cut in front of the line and stepped into a cab that wasn’t supposed to be his, and a parking attendant attempted to pull the man from the cab — drawing catcalls and encouragements of violence from the crowd — before finally giving up and letting him take the taxi.
By 11:45 p.m. — roughly 33 minutes after the game had ended — there were at least 300 people waiting cabs in near-freezing weather.
“We’re going to wing it,” said Mike Smith of Nashville, who took a taxi to AT&T Stadium to see the championship game with his son, Zach, 11.
Smith, who works for a slot machine company, said he didn’t realize that, while it was relatively easy to get from his hotel in north Dallas to AT&T Stadium by taxi, the wait for a cab to get back to the hotel after the game could take an hour or more.
But father and son took it in stride.
“We understand it’s going to take a little time to get out, no matter what,” he said.
The college football championship is different from a garden variety Dallas Cowboys game at AT&T Stadium because the overwhelming majority of attendees are from out of town.
Because there is no mass transit — such as light rail — anywhere near the stadium, options are limited. Event organizers, however, said there are other forms of transportation available for out-of-towners who don’t want to mess with the unpredictable nature of taxis.
They said the vehicle-for-hire system, while not perfect, works reasonably well.
“Lots of people are taking shuttles and buses,” said Tony Fay, spokesman for the Stadium Events Operating Committee. “There’s a lot of transportation for VIP guests. There are limousines. … It’s certainly not going to be the same situation as walking out of a restaurant. [But] this worked pretty well during the Final Four.”
‘Keeping the peace’
Arlington temporarily relaxes its cab restrictions to allow more taxis than normal during big events at AT&T Stadium.
“The taxi queue holds 80 to 100 taxis, and is capable of giving rides to 1,200 people in 90 minutes or less, said Dallas Cowboys club spokesman Joe Trahan.
Also, the cab drivers typically return to the queue for at least two and sometimes three fares after a game, he said.
Officials with the organizing committee, Cowboys, cab companies and smartphone application-based vehicle-for-hire services such as Uber and Lyft met about two weeks ago to ensure that everybody was on the same page in understanding how the post-game traffic flow would work, he said.
“It’s a queuing process,” Trahan said. “Last week, during the Cowboys game against the Detroit Lions, we moved 1,200 people in about an hour and a half.”
Still, on Monday night and into early Tuesday the taxi queue appeared to deserve its reputation as a flashpoint for controversy at AT&T Stadium.
One unidentified man wearing an official yellow parking attendant jacket and counting the people getting into cabs, said in the final minutes of Monday’s game the first 123 people out of the stadium were immediately placed in cabs. They were able to leave the entertainment district without a hitch, he said. But by then, 100 to 200 other patrons had shown up at the queue needing a ride, and no empty cabs were available — and many of those folks waited for more than 30 minutes.
Then another wave of fans needing a cab ride arrived, and the lines got really long. By then, the attendant said, some of those at the back of the line were destined to wait an hour or more.
By 11:40 p.m., many more taxis were showing up, and at one point there were 10 cabs at a time filling up with passengers. The line, however, stayed 300 strong.
One unidentified officer helping with traffic control in the area said he couldn’t explain how the taxi system worked, and he was mainly there to prevent fights.
“I’m just trying to keep the peace, man,” he said.
The Uber factor
Meanwhile, other companies, such as Uber, which were authorized to use the taxi queue, instead made arrangements with customers to meet at more convenient pickup spots a short walking distance from the stadium.
Uber, known for making big marketing splashes as it tries to take business from traditional cab companies, kicked things up a notch for the college football championship game by offering helicopter rides. The fledgling online company offered a service known as UberChopper. For $350, fans could get a ride to the stadium in a helicopter operated by Fort Worth’s EPIC Helicopters, a company that operates out of Fort Worth’s Meacham Airport.
Uber then offered rides home after the game in high-end sedans.
Uber reportedly sold out all 20 of its UberChopper spots in 20 minutes and had to quit advertising the service.
UberChopper customers who paid a premium for their helicopter ride, weren’t expected to wait in the taxi queue, spokeswoman Debbie Hancock said.
“For both UberChopper riders as well as any other attendees looking for a safe ride home, the driver will contact them after the request is made to coordinate the pick up location,” Hancock said.
Meanwhile, shortly after midnight Tuesday, nearly an hour after the final whistle in the Oregon-Ohio State game, the line of people waiting for a cab on the west side of AT&T Stadium was still about 300 deep.
“Hey, hey, hey!” one middle-aged man yelled to another man who walked to the front, ostensibly just to ask a parking attendant a question. “Go to the back of the line!”
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796