SEPTA jumped on the Francis Festival train Thursday, joining the city's new effort to get people to embrace Pope Week in Philly with a sense of excitement rather than frustration or fear.
Somewhere between 100,000 and 240,000 Papal Visit passes are available and now easier to get. Buses/trolleys/subway routes and times are being adjusted to get you closer to the events. More parking spaces are opening up and SEPTA will now stay open as long as it takes to get you back home after Saturday and Sunday papal events.
General Manager Joe Casey pinned an "I'll Be There" button on his suit jacket to kick off the outright appeal, inviting commuters to use SEPTA during the World Meeting of Families and Papal Visit.
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"We want you to be there and we want you to ride SEPTA to get you there because nothing gets you closer to the Francis Festival and nothing gets you closer to the pope than SEPTA,” said Casey, adding all SEPTA drop points are within a 2-mile walk of Logan Circle. (see map below)
Papal Passes: SEPTA said more than 100K passes are still available and you can get them at SEPTA ticket offices. By our count, the number may be much higher -- about 240K. The transit company started with 350-thousand passes offered through a lottery system (175,000 for each day). Casey said 50,000 Saturday passes were bought and paid for and 60,000 for Sunday. Apparently, about 100,000 passes won in the lottery have not been paid for, according to a SEPTA spokeswoman's explanation when pressed on why the math doesn't work. Bottom line: expect SEPTA to free up more of those "unpaid" passes on hold.
Parking: More than 23,000 parking spaces are available now at different stops, Casey said. The number and location details for spots will be posted on SEPTA's website next week.
Buses/High-Speed Lines: Dozens of bus routes and subway/elevated lines are being adjusted to get riders closer to events. The Market-Frankford and Broad Street Lines will run an express-like service and many buses will operate on a weekday schedule. Details are posted on a dedicated SEPTA pope page.
Airport Line: The only Regional Rail operating inbound/outbound on Saturday and Sunday and lines will run every 30 minutes, stopping in Center City at Jefferson Station and University City Station. Priority boarding between 5:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. for people with Papal Visit passes. Airline passengers can buy passes at airport terminals. AFTER 8 a.m., you can use prepaid tickets or your regular weekly/monthly SEPTA pass.
Perhaps the best news for people coming to see Pope Francis — SEPTA will now stay open as long as it takes Saturday and Sunday to get people back to their destinations. Initially, the plan was to shut the lines down at midnight.
Casey admitted ticket sales were likely down due to apprehension that grew in recent weeks after city leaders warned people to prepare for walks up to five miles.
"This is an historic event. Historic for the city of Philadelphia. Historic for SEPTA. There’s no reason to have any apprehension about coming to this event," said Casey, who retires two days after Pope Francis leaves Philly.
The World Meeting of Families conference opens on September 22, which will attract up to 15,000 attendees. Congestion in and out of the city is expected to increase as more people arrive to see Pope Francis on Saturday and Sunday.