Friday, August 28, 2015

Sales of papal regional rail passes not exactly heavenly

What if they gave a papal Mass and nobody came?

Well, I don't think that's going to happen. Still, I have to admit I was startled at yesterday's update from SEPTA, in particular the numbers when it comes to sales of those special regional rail passes for the weekend of the visit by Pope Francis in late September. Remember, you can't use the system without one of the special passes, and only certain stations will be operating on the routes, which will funnel folks from the suburbs downtown.

For months the drumbeat was of massive throngs descending on those 18 stations, including Primos Station which is basically in our backyard here at the Daily Times.

Now, I'm not so sure.

SEPTA yesterday said they had sold only about 50,000 passes for Saturday, and maybe 60,000 for Sunday. Yes, those are double and triple the usual weekend regional rail ridership. But it's nowhere near what SEPTA expected. The transit agency put 175,000 passes on sale for each day.

Officials indicated as many as 10,000 people could descend on beautiful downtown Primos to get on those early-morning trains on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 26 and 27.

But SEPTA now has more than 200,000 passes on their hands, and they're hoping sales pick up.

That's probably why this week the tone of the officials in the city and the World Meeting of Families has changed. There is less talk of commuting snags, a traffic box, logistics and long walks to venues. In its place there is the 'Francis Festival Grounds.' And a huge push to get people excited about the papal visit.

It was expected that 1.5 million people or more would descend on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday for Pope Francis' outdoor Mass.

So I ask you, are you taking the 'over' or 'under' on that number.

Based on sales of those regional rail passes, I'm leaning toward the under.

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