Papal pilgrims overwhelm Philadelphia transit ticket system

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 20, 2015 1:46 PM

(Reuters) - Philadelphia's transit system on Monday suspended sales of rail passes for Pope Francis's upcoming visit to the city after visitors eager to snap up train tickets overwhelmed its online ordering system.

City officials have already warned that with an estimated 2 million people expected to travel into the city for an open-air Mass in front of Philadelphia Museum of Art in September, Philadelphia's roads and railways are likely to overwhelmed.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, which operates the region's transit system, opened sales at 9 a.m. local time (1300 GMT) on Monday for the 175,000 rail tickets to be available on each day of the pope's Sept. 26-27 visit to the city, but said its website was quickly overwhelmed by some 900,000 visits in about ten minutes.

"Most transactions were not completed, and therefore most of the regional rail one-day passes are still available for customers to purchase when sales resume," SEPTA officials said in a posting on its website. The group did not say when sales would continue.

The transit authority plans to reconfigure service for the weekend of the papal visit, doubling train capacity but limiting service to 18 of its more than 100 stations to focus on transporting people to and from papal events.

The leader of the 1.2 billion-member church is also set to address the United Nations in New York and the U.S. Congress in Washington during his first visit to the United States that month.

The crowd at Philadelphia's Sunday Mass on Sept. 27 is expected to fill a 1.5 mile (2.4 km) stretch along the Schuylkill River, dwarfing the turnout for a 1979 event featuring Pope John Paul II and far eclipsing attendance seen at major sporting and holiday events, according to Philadelphia officials.

More than 1 million people packed into an air base in Asuncion, Paraguay, on July 12 for an open-air mass the pope held at the end of a visit to his native Latin America.

He has used recent trips to criticize unbridled capitalism, champion the rights of the poor and urge world leaders to act to address climate change.

(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Susan Heavey)