SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers and their partners said Saturday night's Levi's Stadium opening sporting event was intended to be a practice run, and they sure found plenty of room for improvement before the NFL action starts in two weeks.

By halftime of the San Jose Earthquakes soccer match, the barbecue concessions stands ran out of sauce, and other vendors had no hot dogs left. Some bathroom lines snaked dozens deep while some of the automatic toilets that were meant to save water flushed continuously. The heralded Wi-Fi system didn't let everyone log on.

But the most irritating issue was transportation. First, a relatively small but very frustrated group of travelers had big trouble getting to the game in Santa Clara, with a couple of lots turning away prepaid, reserved customers while one chaotic scene unfolded on a train that lost power.

However, a lot more attendees had a nightmarish trip home, waiting an hour to get out of their parking lot, while the longest postgame journeys were by mass transit, where it took some more than two hours to get back to their original station.

Still, it seemed that most of the 48,765 in attendance had a fun time and either encountered no problems or were willing to overlook them in the face of all the high-tech and comfort upgrades the shiny new $1.3 billion stadium offered. But with the stadium hyped as one of the best in the world -- with the sky-high ticket prices to go with it -- the team knows it needs to improve before the first Niners preseason game on Aug. 17, when the crowd will reach 70,000.


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"Is this what's to be expected to come? Absolutely not," said Jim Mercurio, the 49ers vice president of stadium operations and security. "Every single event, we will have an opportunity to get better, and we will review every aspect of every operation."

Harrowing VTA

Perhaps the most furious complaints came from the 8,300 Valley Transportation Authority light rail riders to and from the stadium. Most raved about the pregame transit, where they arrived in a spread-out fashion with minimal waits. But the postgame crush was a different story, as it took up to 90 minutes for many just to get onto a train, VTA says, and then the rides took up to an hour.

Ruben Gonzalez, 61, of San Jose, had been waiting in line with his wife after the game for more than an hour when he took a call from his son, who drove to the game and said he was home in Santa Clara already and wanted to know if he should come back and get them. He wound up taking the train.

"Never again," Gonzalez said of VTA. "It was supposed to be traffic jam that kept people from getting home."

Others were so frustrated by the train lines they gave up: Chuck Konrad said he wound up taking an Uber back to Willow Glen in San Jose after walking a ways to a pick-up point. Another woman said she just walked a few miles to her car at a VTA lot -- and got there before some riders.

The good news? VTA is set to finish building a "pocket track" that will store extra postgame trains by the time the 49ers first hit the field in two weeks, allowing for quicker postgame service.

"I hope they'll give us another chance," VTA spokeswoman Colleen Valles said Sunday. "We're definitely looking at different ways we can make this better for people. I know long waits can be tough."

Dirt cover

On the roadways, more than 85 percent of soccer patrons entered the gates before the opening whistle, and most said they had little trouble driving in. But one major pregame problem stemmed from a medical issue aboard a stopped vehicle near the yellow lots, to which traffic coming off Highway 237 was sent. Compounding problems, some vehicles designated to park at those yellow lots were turned away after a miscommunication with team officials in the control tower, and drivers were sent to park on a neighboring golf course that covered some cars in dirt.

"Who had taken my spot that I had prepaid?" asked San Jose's Irene Tarter, who said it took her an hour to complete a drive that normally takes 5 minutes.

But the homebound problems were much broader. While the freeways -- Interstate 880 and Highways 101 and 237 -- were smooth-sailing all night, many were stuck in traffic getting out of their lots, saying it took them around an hour just to get to the highway.

"It was the craziest thing I've ever seen. It was just chaos," said Christina Kolotouros of Woodside. "It's not going to work for a football game."

The extra 20,000 fans that will arrive for 49ers games could make the problems on the road significantly worse, but the Great America theme park next door was running a special discount day, with tens of thousands attendees that let out at the same time as the game. The amusement park will be mostly closed during the NFL season.

Elsewhere, the team is working on problems associated with scattered reports of poorly-stocked concessions, ill-informed stadium employees, spotty cell service, poor interior signage, covered beer taps and just about everything else that comes from a new business opening.

"All in all," Mercurio said, "it was a fairly good test."

Staff writers Bud Geracie, Katie Nelson, Daniel Brown and Elliott Almond contributed to this report. Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at Twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.