2008’s World Series Champs Helped Prepare SEPTA for Pope

SEPTA is trying to apply lessons from past transit debacles. Will it help?

Pope Francis|  giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com. Map | SEPTA

Pope Francis| giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com. Map | SEPTA

SEPTA is still having issues with their transportation plan for Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia in September.

Yesterday morning, shortly after sales opened for the limited “Pope Pass,” the special website set up specifically for those passes experienced technical difficulties, prompting SEPTA to suspend sales of the pass and issue tweets promising to advise potential customers when sales would resume.

This isn’t the only time SEPTA’s had some trouble rolling out a transit plan for what is expected to be a massive event.

Transportation issues abounded in 2008, after the Phillies won their first World Series since 1980. Now, transit officials say, they are applying some of the lessons they learned from those issues in their preparation for a likely much bigger event, Pope Francis‘ visit to Philadelphia on September 26th-27th.

There are differences. Pope Francis will presumably curse less than Chase Utley did during that celebration. (And these days the Phillies are playing a somewhat less-saintly version of baseball than they once did.)

When the Phillies won the World Series, thousands upon thousands of fans came from around the region — many on public transportation — to line Broad Street and celebrate their newly-crowned baseball heroes. But city and public transit officials had very little time to prepare for the impending parade.

“It was a two-day notice between when they won and when we were going to have the parade,” SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch told NJ.com. “People were backed up at all the stations. Some people got passed up and couldn’t get on, and trains from outlying points were taking three hours just to get into the city,” Busch added.

But SEPTA  and PATCO have had months — not days — to plan for the pope’s visit to Philly.

Both public transit agencies are limiting their transportation offerings for the weekend of the pope’s visit. SEPTA is offering the aforementioned “Pope Pass” for one-day travel from select regional rail stations into Center City. Users must choose a specific station and boarding block — either 5:30-8:30 am, or 8:30-12:30 pm — which will be printed on the pass and not accepted at any other station or during any other time that day.

“It’s the closest thing we’ve had to a reservation service like you would see on Amtrak or on an airplane,” Busch said to NJ.com. “We felt that was the best way to control the crowds. If someone purchases a pass, they still might have to wait for a train, but they’ll be assured service.”

PATCO is following suit, offering one- and two-day passes from a limited number of PATCO stations in New Jersey to their station at 9th/10th and Locust streets.

Ben Cornelius, PATCO’s assistant general manager, told NJ.com that the rail service learned from issues that arose during the Phillies parade that they could not provide the train capacity they needed if they left every station open. And both SEPTA and PATCO have been working with the Secret Service to determine the optimal plan for transportation, including which stations it makes sense to serve that weekend.

PATCO chose its open stations based on available parking and connections to other public transit services, like NJ Transit buses and the River Line light rail, which carries passengers between Camden and Trenton, NJ.com said. “If you reduce the number of stations, you can fill a train with a capacity of 650-700 people and express it right into Philadephia,” Cornelius told NJ.com. “Trains from four stations will be arriving in Center City every four minutes, which means each station will have a train every 16 minutes.”

Riders will have to walk from designated dropoffs to the area where they plan to view the pope. In addition, ground public transit — buses, trolleys and subways/elevated rail — will run on special schedules that entire weekend.