Tweaking PATCO service part of South Jersey’s papal visit plans

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 PATCO service will operate on a modified schedule during the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

PATCO service will operate on a modified schedule during the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

When Pope Francis travels to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families in September, the visit will reverberate beyond the city limits. The entire region is getting ready for the pontiff, and that means public safety officials in the area are getting ready too.

Across the Delaware River, Camden County is planning for a strain on its transit system.

“Philadelphia and South Jersey are … linked on an everyday basis for a variety of reasons, including commuter and tourist travel, commerce, and emergency planning,” said Camden County Director of Public Safety Rob Blaker.

“It will only intensify by dropping 2 million people in the area during the World Meeting of Families week.”

While the security arrangements are being worked out primarily behind the scenes, officials are releasing some details on how to get around during the pope’s visit. They insist, however, plans are still fluid.

The PATCO Speedline, which runs through Camden County into Center City Philadelphia, will limit the number of open stations and sell only advance tickets for that weekend.

Lindenwold, Woodcrest, Ferry Avenue and Broadway in South Jersey will be operating —  the first three chosen because they have the most parking and Broadway because it’s closest to Philadelphia. The 9th-10th and Locust station will be the only PATCO stop open in the city.

Drivers can park or drop off passengers at any of the open PATCO stations, but their best bet is to walk, said Delaware River Port Authority CEO John Hanson.

“[From] the reports that I’ve received, this event is being described as a pilgrimage, which means expect to walk. And starting off walking to our station would probably be a great idea,” he said.

Special FREEDOM Cards are available for purchase for $5 and $10 on PATCO’s website and at Broadway and Woodcrest stations. No tickets will be sold during the Sept. 26 and 27 weekend of the World Meeting of Families.

PATCO will have a capacity of 100,000 riders per day, just a fraction of those expected to show up to see the pope.

The Ben Franklin Bridge walkway will likely remain available to pedestrians, Hanson said, but the bridge could close to vehicles depending on road closures in Philadelphia.

Officials say they are also setting aside parking for up to 1,100 charter buses on the Camden waterfront.

Camden County is coordinating with other South Jersey counties as well as state and federal agencies, including the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security.

Officials also say the public can call in tips to 1-866-4-SAFE-NJ.

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