Philadelphia Eagles fans have had decades to prepare for their team coming home as Super Bowl champions, and when the day arrived, they didn’t want to be late.
Fans packed trains, walked across the Ben Franklin Bridge, and filled subway stops to get in position hours before the 11 a.m. parade started. The region’s public transportation systems seemed up to the task of moving all those people, with lines being reported, but rides moving along steadily as fans sang and chanted their way toward the parade route.
All week SEPTA had been encouraging parade goers to rely on the Market-Frankford and Broad Street lines, which can together carry up to 65,000 people at a time, and while those routes were busy, riders reported service moved along efficiently. Both lines were free throughout Thursday.
At 8 a.m., the riders at Fern Rock station were happy – and almost everybody was in green.
Conrad Lokey, 61, came with his family from the Cheltenham Avenue, a short drive and had his first subway ride in years.
“Last time was in ’08 with the Phillies,” Lorke said, recalling the celebration after the World Series win.
Even people who had to work gave a sign of relief when they finally got on the southbound train.
Lode Kone, 35, an immigrant from the Republic of Mali, worked a night shift at a gas station clerk. He said he expected no problems getting to his house near 52nd Street and Baltimore Avenue.
“I’ll get home,” he said with confidence.
SEPTA reported trains filled with parade goers late Wednesday night on the Paoli/Thorndale and Lansdale/Doylestown lines. By 6 a.m. Thursday morning, there were lines around parking lots and onto streets at Regional Rail stations.
At the Paoli station, Praveen Reddy, 49, of Chester Springs, waited for a SEPTA train with his son Srihith, 10, and daughter Nishka, 8.
Reddy had started his day at 3 a.m. when he woke up to drive his older children to the Thorndale SEPTA station. Those children finally got on a train around 6 a.m., he said.
Praveen Reddy, 49, of Chester Springs, (second from right), woke up at 3 a.m. to drive his older children to the Thorndale train station. Reddy, his younger kids, and a friend originally tried getting on at Exton, but SEPTA trains kept passing by, he said. pic.twitter.com/dwKRgFm5VY
— Erin McCarthy (@erinK_mccarthy) February 8, 2018
Later in the morning, Reddy and his younger children tried getting on a train at the Exton station farther up the line, but trains there weren’t stopping, he said. So they drove down further to Paoli, where half-empty SEPTA trains were stopping and passengers with passes could get on easily.
By 9 a.m., SEPTA workers estimated 2,000 riders had gotten on at the Paoli station.
“I’d say, more like two million,” one employee said with a laugh, referencing parade crowd estimates.
At the West Trenton station, teens and families waited impatiently for a train in the dark around 6:10 a.m. SEPTA employees with bullhorns called for people to step back from the yellow caution line for safety as the train pulled into the station around 6:30 a.m.
But 45 minutes later, the West Trenton station was nearly empty, with more SEPTA workers than passengers. That train made the run all the way into Philadelphia mostly empty, with startled passengers saying, “I never thought I’d seen an empty train.”
SEPTA estimated 65,000 to 70,000 used Regional Rail Thursday morning.
SEPTA largely turned to the same playbook used when Pope Francis visited Philadelphia in 2015: In the morning all Regional Rail trains would come into the city. In the evening, all trains would go out. SEPTA only loaded trains at its outermost stations on the Regional Rail to avoid passengers trying to board closer to the city being left behind by already filled trains.
Unlike the Pope’s visit, however, which came with nearly a year of advance notice, the region’s transportation officials had just a few days to firm up their plan for Thursday. SEPTA officials began working on a plan a few weeks before the Super Bowl, said spokesman Andrew Busch, but had less than a week to confirm details like the day the parade would be held.
Crowds gathered at the PATCO stations in New Jersey, too, as early as 5 a.m. A woman from Ventnor waited an hour and 45 minutes at the Lindenwold stop starting at 7 a.m. in a line she said was more than a mile long. Some in line didn’t know they had to purchase tickets ahead of time and left dejected.
— Jan Hefler (@JanHefler) February 8, 2018
PATCO reported moving 10,000 people an hour through the morning Thursday, but shortly before the parade was scheduled to begin, PATCO began offering tickets again since the morning rush had gone without incident.
The day was not without frustrations. Some SEPTA riders reported trains traveling that were only half full. That could have been a result of most fans arriving at stations very early, but at least one rider reported a largely empty train leaving people behind as it departed Elwyn and arriving in the city without being filled.
SEPTA limited Regional Rail access to weekly and monthly pass holders and people who bought 50,000 Independence Passes, so many had to rely on other alternatives, including rideshare services. By 7:45 a.m. Uber driver Lashanda Schuman, 30, had made as much after just three passengers as she normally makes in eight hours of driving, she said Thursday morning.
“It’s already profitable,” she said. “I already made $200 so far.”
The demand for Uber had pushed prices up to two and three times their normal rates, she said. She made $101 on one trip taking a family from the suburbs to the parade.
Her plan for the day was to drive until the parade started, then head home to watch.
Meanwhile, the region’s highways were running surprisingly well. By 9 a.m. the highways were not more crowded than the tail end of a typical rush hour, PennDot reported.
Staff writers Erin McCarthy, Jan Hefler, Mark Fazlollah, and Bob Fernandez contributed to this article.