My Experience with SEPTA/Pope Tickets Was a Cathedral-Sized Fail

I had it inked in my calendar today: “9 a.m. Septa tix.”

Ever since I heard Pope Francis is coming to Philadelphia in September, I’ve been eager to go. I’ve followed the news about which SEPTA lines will travel the weekend of the 26th and was relieved when I read that the Wilmington line will be running.

A small snag: You have to buy your tickets, special one-day passes, ahead of time. There are about 350,000 passes available to the public, and you were supposed to buy them today. On the news, I’d heard train stations would begin selling them at 9 a.m., and that’s what I saw last week on SEPTA’s website.

So a little after 8:30 this morning, I left my Riverfront apartment to walk to the train station. It’s a hot one today, but I didn’t mind. I hoped there wouldn’t be a huge line. My husband mused about scalpers hiring people to stand in line and buy the maximum 10 tickets at a time, and I hoped against hope that wouldn’t be the case.

When I walked into the train station at 8:47 this morning to a meager morning crowd and an empty SEPTA counter, I knew something was wrong.

That’s because, I soon found out, you can’t buy tickets at train stations. It’s all online, the ticket guy said to me, looking at me like I was an idiot. I felt like one. A small part of me wanted to cry.

I debated following through with the rest of my plan, which was to buy some vegetables at the Riverfront Market on the way back. On the phone, my husband said he’d try to order the tickets on his cell because he’s (annoyingly but perhaps sensibly) paranoid about putting personal information on his work computer. I wouldn’t get home till a few minutes after 9 anyway.

As I’m toting my asparagus back with me through the heat, I get the dreaded text: “Website is crashing try when you get home.”

Getting off the elevator and feeling panicked, I went for a sprint, like a vegetable-wielding madwoman, down the long hallway to our apartment. And thus started the hour-plus battle with SEPTA’s website that undoubtedly thousands of others were simultaneously waging.

Cursing StubHub scalpers whom I was convinced were clogging the server, I refreshed and tried again and again and again, even with multiple windows going at a time attempting to get two one-day passes without error messages. After 10 a.m. passed, I thought that surely people would give up, and I’d have the server space to get the job done.

No such luck. Eventually, the Papal Visit page stopped loading altogether. Then the link required a user ID and password.

Turns out, SEPTA has suspended its ticket sales (apparently very few went through) and will announce Tuesday morning what the new plan is. I’m not sure what they anticipated when they put the tickets on sale this morning, but the high volumes of traffic were clearly not part of their planning. In the first 10 minutes of going live with the sale, SEPTA said in a statement on its website, more than 900,000 people tried to order tickets, and the site simply couldn’t sustain it.

We’ll keep you posted on what happens.

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