SEPTA and the Pope’s Visit: Everything You Need to Know

Only 31 of SEPTA's subway, regional rail and light rail stations will be in service to facilitate massive, one-way express service while Francis is in town.
SEPTA pope service map updated as of Sept. 10.

SEPTA pope service map updated as of September 10th. For a clickable version with specific station information, visit septa.org.

UPDATE [9/22/2015] For the most complete, up-to-date information on SEPTA and other transit services during the pope’s visit, go to Philadelphia magazine’s Complete Pope in Philly Survival Guide.

UPDATE [7/28/2015]: SEPTA, after suspending sales of papal passes on the day they went on sale, will resume sales through a lottery starting on August 3rd.

UPDATE [7/20/2015]: The passes are on sale now. Here’s everything you need to know to get one.

UPDATE [7/13/2015]: SEPTA has announced papal pass sales and station details. Plus, see above for the updated station map.

ORIGINAL: Thinking of sticking around town when Pope Francis comes to call on Sept. 26th and 27th, at the end of the World Meeting of Families?

If you’re not set on seeing His Holiness, might I recommend that you plan a visit somewhere else and rent out your place to one of the 1.5 million or so visitors who will also descend on the city that weekend. Leave your guests these pieces of advice, though — and follow them yourself if you are sticking around town:

  1. Wear comfortable shoes. You’re going to be doing a lot more walking than you’ve been used to, probably.
  2. Forget driving. Bringing your car into town will be a non-starter, Mayor Michael Nutter said at a City Hall news conference this morning.
  3. If you live in the ‘burbs, ask a friend to drop you off at the nearest open SEPTA Regional Rail station.  And be sure to purchase your Pope Pass beforehand, ’cause you won’t be able to leave home without it, unless you like long bus rides. More on all this below.
  4. If you live in the city, the news is relatively good: Your passes and tokens will get you where you need to go. But it will probably be on a bus rather than on rapid transit.

All this is because SEPTA service will be drastically modified so that the system can move hordes of people into Center City to see the Pope, then move them out again, as quickly as possible. Only 31 of SEPTA’s 282 subway-elevated, Regional Rail and light rail stations (see map) will be in service on the weekend of the Pope’s visit, and passengers will be carried in one direction only from those 31 stations. Trains will pick up passengers at outlying stations, run express into Center City, then turn around and head back out for another load. After the Pope’s done, the trains will do the same thing, only outbound this time.

“We’re taking anywhere from 180,000 to 400,000 people in and out in a short period of time,” SEPTA general manager Joe Casey told reporters at the news conference. That low number is as many riders as take the Market-Frankford Line, SEPTA’s busiest rail route, in one direction over the course of a day, or about 90,000 round trips. To move two to four-and-a-half times that number in just a few hours has led SEPTA to plan service as if there were going to be a major disruption — because there is.

Regional Rail riders will need to purchase a special $10 pass to use the system on Sept. 26th and 27th. TrailPasses and tickets will not be honored on those days. These passes are limited in number and will only be sold in advance of the event. Both the papal pass and regular passes and tokens will be good on the rapid transit, trolley and bus networks.

Those who need to get to their jobs on Sept. 26th and 27th will want to familiarize themselves with the bus schedules if they don’t yet know them: SEPTA will run bus service on a weekday schedule on some lines to make up for the missing rail service. “The only thing we won’t have is the peak-hour schedule,” Casey said. Some bus routes that operate through the security zone for the papal visit will be suspended that weekend, but extra service will be added on 26 city bus routes and eight in the suburbs. Chief control center officer James Fox said at a call-in session today that while SEPTA has a pretty firm idea which routes will get the beefed-up service, the final determination will depend on ongoing planning among all of the parties involved in papal visit logistics, including the Secret Service, the City of Philadelphia and the World Meeting of Families organizing committee.

As the exact details of what sort of service will be provided and when are still evolving, you should check out the World Meeting of Families website and SEPTA’s website for updates.

If you live in New Jersey, the simplest option for getting in to see the Pope is to take PATCO from one of the following stati0ns: Lindenwold, Woodcrest, Ferry Avenue or Broadway/Walter Rand Transportation Center. PATCO will imitate SEPTA in running trains express from these four stations to the 9th-10th and Locust station, where all passengers will disembark. Return service will originate at 9th-10th and Locust and end at the four stations listed. New Jersey Transit is still figuring out just what sort of special service it will operate for the papal visit; what’s known as of now is that service on the River Line and Atlantic City Rail Line will not operate normally. NJT will post updates to its website as it figures out how it will move the legions of pilgrims into the city and back out.

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Sandy Smith Home and Real Estate Editor @MarketStEl
ssmith@phillymag.com