Philly sticks to estimate of 1 million visitors Sunday as demand for rail passes ebbs

 Banners on Market Street welcome Pope Francis to Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Banners on Market Street welcome Pope Francis to Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Estimates are, of course, just that – estimates. Still, even a quick survey of weekend transportation options shows that fewer people may be coming to see Pope Francis than expected.

Thousands of special weekend passes are still available through SEPTA, NJ Transit and the PATCO High Speed Line.

As of Thursday morning, SEPTA had sold 123,295 passes for Saturday and Sunday. The agency printed nearly 330,000, according to officials.

PATCO representative Kyle Anderson said riders have purchased nearly 17,000 one- and two-day passes out of a possible 75,000 per day. NJ Transit has sold nearly 2,900 of its roughly 30,000 passes.

“Maybe people haven’t firmed up their travel plans yet, maybe people are going to purchase closer to the actual historic papal event,” said spokeswoman Nancy Snyder.

So far, the RiverLink Ferry, which connects Camden and Philadelphia, will carry 600 people across the Delaware River throughout the weekend.

An Amtrak spokesman said ridership will be higher than a typical weekend. The company has added 41 extra trains – about 35,000 extra seats – for the event.

“We’re estimating about 25,000 passengers through [30th Street] Station between Saturday and Monday, with particularly heavy travel on the Keystone Service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg,” Craig Schulz said in an email. “Sunday will be the busiest day.”

Demand for motorcoach transportation also appears to be less robust than anticipated.

GO GROUND, the official transportation partner of the World Meeting of Families, has filled 1,100 buses. 

To date, RYDE, the crowdsourcing transportation company behind Popebus.com, is busing roughly 350 people.

Things may pick up, however, now that Pope Francis is on U.S. soil and people become more excited about his visit to Philadelphia.

“We are getting quite a few calls,” said Bob Aube, RYDE’s founder. “I think a lot of people have been inspired after watching Pope Francis speak in front of Congress.”

For planning purposes, officials are sticking to the original estimates of a million or more people, particularly for Pope Francis’ Sunday Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

“This is not like a house party where folks are going to RSVP and tell you, ‘Yeah, I’m going to be there, and I’m coming at 7, and I’m bringing a bottle of wine.’ Folks are just going to show up,” said Mayor Michael Nutter.

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