By Briana Vannozzi
They came by land, by sea and by foot. The hundreds of thousands who attended papal events in Philadelphia this weekend say that what many feared would be a security nightmare, went off without a hitch.
“From our side of the river, everyone seemed to be pretty happy,” said Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli.
While Pope Francis blessed babies and made impromptu stops, throngs of security teams vetted check points, most made it in, some didn’t. But the mood was upbeat and joyous. In Camden, officials had been prepping for months. Capelli says there were little to no hiccups, except for the turnout.
“When this event was first announced we were expecting hundreds of thousands of people coming from the Jersey side, that didn’t happen. For whatever reason that didn’t happen, but we’re very happy with the way things went,” said Cappelli.
The Delaware River Port Authority which controls the Ben Franklin Bridge and the PATCO rail lines — two of the only ways in this weekend — say ridership was double the normal rate for a weekend, but still lower than expected.
Round trip there were just under 23,000 riders on the rail line for Saturday and nearly 29,000 Sunday.
NJ Transit says its still reconciling ridership numbers and ticket sales, but carried between 20,000 to 25,000 customers on bus, rail and light rail systems.
About 7,500 people walked or biked across the bridge. Ferry numbers are still being totaled, and Camden County officials say just 600 out of the 8,500 parking spots available along the waterfront were used.
“The organizers of the event first told us they would need our lots for about 1,200 buses. And just two weeks before the event we were told the buses aren’t coming. So we had relatively quick time to prepare,” said Cappelli.
“I lost business, yeah, probably like 20 percent,” said Market Gourmet Owner Ersin Doyduk.
Nearby business owners say they stocked up on food and supplies in anticipation of the hundreds of thousands, who never showed.
“I think if we had our hands on the announcement on this event from the very beginning our message would have been a lot different than the messages put out there by the city of Philadelphia,” said Cappelli. “I would make it a more welcoming event have some excitement or enthusiasm about it, whether it was intended or not I think a lot of folks were scared away and just confused about what was going to be open and not be open. So I think, if it was up to us, it would have been handled a lot differently.”
Even with numbers falling short of expectations, groups and elected officials on both sides of the river say they’re pleased with the outcome. As Camden’s mayor Dana Redd said, it was better for the city to have and not need, than be in need and not have at all.