Add this to your list of papal souvenirs: a $5 Pope John Paul II commemorative transit pass.
At least, church and state officials are hoping to find a lot of public transit riders when the Roman Catholic pontiff visits Baltimore. Crowds are expected for the Oct. 8 Mass and parade, and downtown gridlock is a possibility.
How many will arrive is anyone's guess, church officials said, but it could be between 100,000 and 300,000. That likely would make the Sunday visit the equivalent of a weekday rush hour.
"A lot of people don't realize what's available, particularly people from out of town," said Cardinal William H. Keeler.
The $5 souvenir pass will be good on buses, subway and light rail. A $15 Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) souvenir pass will be available -- good on a Camden Line train running that day from Washington's Union Station and on all other modes of transit.
To demonstrate the ease of subway commuting, Cardinal Keeler boarded the Metro yesterday at Milford Mill and arrived at Charles Center 20 minutes later for a news conference. It was his first experience on the system.
"A swift and pleasant ride," he said afterward.
Mass Transit Administration officials conceded that the Cardinal's experience probably was enhanced by the fact that he and his entourage were given free rides and exclusive use of a Metro train that made no other stops.
Visitors on Oct. 8 will pay regular fares, but should find nearly equal convenience because subway trains will run every nine minutes, a spokesman said.
MTA officials also see the visit as an opportunity to showcase transit services to people who haven't made use of them in the past. Various transit modes feature 14,000 free parking spaces.
"This will not only expose more people to mass transit but it will demonstrate to the world that the MTA service is the very best," said John A. Agro Jr., MTA administrator. "Its value in marketing is immeasurable."
Church officials already have plunged into the transit business themselves, hiring more than 200 buses to bring worshipers to the morning mass at Camden Yards.
In addition, the MTA will offer six express buses from park-and-ride locations. Running from Carney, White Marsh, Southwest, Memorial Stadium, Essex and Brooklyn, the buses will cost $5 for a round-trip.
The lone MARC train going into Baltimore will leave Union Station at 7:30 a.m. with stops at Greenbelt, Muirkirk, Laurel and Savage. The 1,300-seat train will leave Camden Yards at 3:30 p.m.
The $5 MTA commemorative pass is expected to go on sale in two weeks. The $15 MARC pass will be available at all MARC ticketing stations.
Sales of the passes as well as other transit fares are expected to more than offset the $125,000 price tag for the extra MTA service.
Organizers also have begun to warn drivers to consider taking alternate routes downtown for the big event.