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July 23, 2015

SEPTA to decide Monday whether to keep vendor for papal passes site

After the website to sell special Regional Rail passes for Pope Francis' visit crashed, SEPTA says it will decide by Monday whether to switch website vendors.

“We are considering what the options are,” said Andrew Busch, a SEPTA spokesman. 

The goal is to get the system working quickly.

Unlike subways, buses and trolleys, Regional Rail trains will only accept special passes for the weekend of the pope's visit, scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 26, and Sunday, Sept. 27. Monthly transit passes and cash fares will not work. So whether you're coming to see the pope or just commuting for work on those days, you'll have to buy one of SEPTA's special passes beforehand. 

The passes were originally scheduled to go on sale online Monday morning, July 20. The site crashed soon after it was launched as a deluge of visitors scrambled for the limited supply of passes. It is unclear exactly when the passes will go back on sale, Busch said.

The contractor behind the papal pass website, CapTech, has an agreement with SEPTA to do IT work worth about $500,000 annually, Busch said. CapTech is paid a portion of that amount, along with a subcontractor, for its work on the papal passes website. The site was tested before it launched on Monday but was not ready for the approximately 54,000 visitors it received in the minutes after it went live.

Bringing in a new vendor is a possibility.

"We're considering what the options are, whether that is going forward with a different vendor" or something else, Busch said.  

Whether a new vendor would significantly delay when the passes go back on sale is unknown. 

“We probably won’t know more on [the] timeline until we get to Monday and finish out these discussions and planning that are going on internally here,” Busch said. “We want to get it going sooner rather than later.”

In addition, SEPTA wants to make sure that those who are traveling to see the pope from far away will be able to receive their passes through the mail on time.

“We think we need to have these sales … by the early part of August,” said Busch. “The sooner we can get these passes in people’s hands … that will benefit everyone involved.”

Busch praised some of CapTech’s previous work.

“We have been happy with them,” he said. “They have helped us with real-time information, particularly during difficult periods during winter storms.”

There are about 175,000 papal passes available for each weekend day, Busch said. Those numbers are based on the capacity of the transportation system.

“It does seem there is going to be significant demand,” said Busch.