Friday, September 4, 2015
SEPTA: Only one-quarter of rail passes for papal visit sold in Bucks
Posted: Thursday, August 27, 2015
Once believed to be the hottest ticket in town, SEPTA has sold a little more than 100,000 of the 350,000 special rail passes for the much anticipate Philadelphia weekend visit of Pope Francis next month.
At a press conference Thursday, the Philadelphia transit agency announced it has sold 50,000 of the $10 passes for September 26, the first day of the pope’s Philadelphia appearance, and another 60,000 for Sunday, when the pope is expected to celebrate a free public Mass on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.
As of Monday, slightly more than one quarter of the 40,000 rail passes for the five Bucks County regional rail stations for September 27, the day the pope is scheduled to deliver his Mass from the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams said.
Locally, the Warminster station has the highest number of sales -- 4,000 out of the 10,000 available passes; the Croydon station has sold the fewest tickets -- only 1,000 of 5,000.
Bucks County emergency management officials have been eagerly anticipating rail ticket sale information, considered a critical factor in traffic and emergency management planning. Most local municipalities' planning, so far, has been based around maximum rail ticket sales, according to officials.
Bristol Township Emergency Management Coordinator Kevin Dippolito said Thursday that he has no immediate plans to adjust his first responder plans, which include a First Aid station and additional emergency medical units.
“Once the (SEPTA) ticket sales have stopped and I know how many have been sold for each day then I’ll make any adjustments that are necessary and appropriate,’ Dippolito said.
A major concern among municipalities has involved parking, since the number of available expected rail riders far outnumbers available parking space at the train stations which ranges from a low of 200 spaces at the Croydon rail station to 1,929 spaces at Cornwells Heights.
Local municipal emergency management officials say they’ve been told that parking at the train stations will be extremely limited since the transit agency plans to use the lots for crowd control, and spaces will be restricted to only handicapped parking.
On Thursday, the transit agency said that 23,000 additional private parking spaces will be located near some – but not all – rail stations on Sept. 26 and 27; Williams said information and maps detailing where the additional parking will be available will be released next week.
Middletown police confirm they’ve secured parking arrangements with the Oxford Valley Mall, roughly a one mile walk to the Woodbourne Regional Rail station, which will be transporting up to 10,000 people each day. The mall has 8,000 parking spaces. A “limited” number of people who are physically unable to walk will have a shuttle bus available to and from the Woodbourne station.
There will be no parking at either the Croydon Train Station or the Tullytown-Levittown station lots, where as many as 5,000 people could take the train each day, according to municipal officials.
If more charter and other high occupancy vehicles opt for the rail travel rather than driving into Philadelphia, it would likely reduce traffic congestion even in the area around the train stations, Dippolito said.
SEPTA officials on Thursday described the rail pass sales as steady since they became available, first through a lottery system and now they are sold at the regional rail stations. There has been increased interest in bulk sales from businesses and churches that are considering busing attendees to rail stations rather than driving into the city, Williams said.
SEPTA officials emphasized that public transportation including the Broad Street subway line and trolley system is the easiest travel option for people who want to participate in the World Meeting of Families activities.
Regional rail passes will be sold up to the week before the event. All the rail stops in Center City are no more than a 1.8 mile walk from Logan Circle, where most of the World Meeting of Family activities are centered. Event organizers plan to have Jumbotrons set up at the so-called “Francis Fair Ground” area broadcasting the Papal Mass.
Rail pass sales have been a big missing puzzle piece for transportation engineers and municipal officials who are formulating plans to deal with traffic congestion and volume related to the pope’s visit.
The most recent traffic map created by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission suggests Route 13, the Burlington Bristol Bridge connecting to New Jersey, I-95, Route 1, Route 413 and Pennsylvania Turnpike will be the heaviest traveled traffic arteries in Bucks County during the pope weekend.
The models were created based on a project 1.5 million visitors and 11,000 high-occupancy vehicles traveling into Philadelphia, said Matt Gates, manager of the office of modeling and analysis for the DVRPC. The map also did not take into account traffic around the rail stations that will be operating that weekend.
A final traffic volume and congestion projection model should be ready the second week of September, he added.
The most recent traffic model predicts congestion will be “quite a bit worse” in Montgomery County than Bucks with near gridlock around the Blue Route, the Route 422 Interchange and the Northeast extension, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike west of Fort Washington, Gates said. But the traffic models, so far, have used the maximum attendance predictions -- 1.5 million -- during the weekend, he added.
In Bucks County, the highest congestion would be around I-95, a volume Gates described as similar to a weekday rush hour.
Once the World Meeting of Families closes its charter bus registration Monday, engineers will have information about where the buses are coming from, which will help predict traffic patterns, Gates said. The planning models reflect typical weekend traffic, as well as the anticipated pope-related traffic.
The biggest remaining unknown will be how many people will decide to drive into Philadelphia that weekend including unregistered charter buses. Unregistered buses will not have parking credentials in Philadelphia and they will not be allowed to travel on the Schuylkill Expressway between Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia and West Conshohocken in Montgomery County.
Vehicle travel within Philadelphia is expected to be extremely limited with parts of major highways into the city closed including Route 1, Schuylkill and Vine Street expressways closed starting Sept. 25. Within downtown Philadelphia, vehicles won’t be allowed to enter a 3-square-mile zone beginning at 6 p.m. Sept. 25. Certain streets within the zone will be restricted to emergency vehicles.
The Benjamin Franklin Bridge linking New Jersey to downtown Philadelphia will be closed to vehicles from 10 p.m. Sept. 25 to about noon Sept. 28. The bridge will remain open to pedestrians and PATCO Speed Line rail service.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: email@example.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia