As SEPTA site crashes, mass transit ticket sales on hold

 Pope Francis delivers a blessing from his studio's window, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sunday during a heat wave.

Pope Francis delivers a blessing from his studio's window, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sunday during a heat wave. "I see you are courageous with this heat in the square. A tip of the hat to you!" he told the crowd. The pope might also offer a tip of his biretta to frustrated SEPTA riders who couldn't get tickets for the his visit to Philadelphia when the system crashed. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

At 9 a.m. sharp Monday morning, Bucks County resident Meghan Pastorino signed online to buy a transit ticket for the pope’s September visit and Mass in Philadelphia.

“And it went to the cart and immediately just crashed after that,” said Pastorino, who plans to volunteer for the World Meeting of Families, to be held in the city this fall.

She wasn’t the only one howling at her computer screen Monday morning.

SEPTA suspended the sale of its special papal visit passes after its website kept crashing.

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Riding the regional rail the weekend Pope Francis will be in town requires buying a special ticket in advance, and they must be purchased online.

Pastorino suspects the site issues went beyond a surprising response from riders.

“I don’t know why they won’t say this is a site problem, and not all the traffic,” she said. “But it’s the kind of thing you expect from SEPTA.”

.@SEPTA_SOCIAL can you guys just admit the site is the problem and not all the traffic?

— Meghan (@meghanXrino) July 20, 2015


@SEPTA_SOCIAL I have been trying to buy a pope visit pass for the past hour, what’s going on with the site???

— Miranda (@Miranda_motto) July 20, 2015


@SEPTA_SOCIAL Are there actually still any tickets? Ss all this trying a waste of time since they’re already sold out? Trying since 9:00am.

— Mary Jo Lodge (@MusicalMJL) July 20, 2015

Everyone, just calm down, said SEPTA.

“Not to panic,” said SEPTA Spokeswoman Jerri Williams said. “The system unfortunately failed early, and we only sold a minimum amount of passes.”

Indeed, some 64,000 people were waiting to buy their tickets when SEPTA decided to pull the plug on its e-commerce site and send it to the repair shop.

Just 28 people were able to buy tickets on Monday.

So now sitting in limbo are vast bulk of the 175,000 regional rail passes it intended sell for the papal weekend starting on Sept. 26. But first, the bugs must be worked out.

The transit authority’s technical staff, in conjunction with two IT consulting groups, is on the case.

SEPTA expects to announce either Tuesday, or shortly after that, when it will reopen the site. Williams said riders will be given a 24-hour notice.

Already, though, Williams said, there are some clues as to what hobbled the first launch. A test system in place before 9 a.m. this morning required a password. It was intended for those working on the site, but many tried to log in anyway, thus jamming the system with queries before the 9 a.m. launch, she said.

Pure traffic volume was also a contributing factor. SEPTA tested the site over the weekend to handle around 1,700 ticket purchases per second and about 600,000 unique visits. It seemed ready to handle that kind of influx of clicks. Problem is, many, many more than that came flooding in, Williams said.

Whatever you do, Williams said, don’t make a joke comparing the launch to the way the Obamacare insurance marketplace site limped out of the gate.

“I want you to know that that joke is getting old,” Williams said, laughing. “We’ve been getting it all morning.”

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