Santa Claus wants you to be good for goodness sake. Even when taking PATCO.
His unmistakable, festive — yet authoritative — voice is advising riders on the commuter line between Lindenwold and Center City to share their seats, mind their bicycles, and observe proper decorum in the quiet car.
Needless to say, Santa also is urging riders to “have a happy holiday!”
PATCO substituted ho-ho-ho versions for a half-dozen existing recorded announcements on Dec. 17. The standard station identifications and emergency alerts are being delivered in normal fashion, although both sets of recordings are the work of the same professional voice actor.
This being the Philly-South Jersey region, folks are either loving or hating this bit of seasonal merriment. So bountiful, yet at times, conflicted have been the social media declarations -- some riders love hating/hate loving Santa on the PA system -- that PATCO sought a reaction from Mr. Claus himself. He responded via YouTube on Sunday.
“PATCO put some thought into (the Santa announcements), and it’s a nice gesture,” said Larry Davis, who oversees @PATCOwatchers on Twitter. The more than 300 followers who voted in a survey he posted were two-to-one in favor of (“Ho ho ho!”) rather than opposed to (“Ba humbug”) the Santa messages, which are expected to continue through the holidays.
Some PATCO Watchers seem to be taking their yuletide rides in stride. Others, not so much.
“This was the first time I can remember being asked to do Santa, so I deepened my voice and just tried to be jolly,” said voice actor Bernie Wagenblast (“it’s my real name”) of Cranford, Union County, who also records the regular PATCO announcements as well as messages heard on the New York City subway system.
"Having grown up in New Jersey and lived here most of my life, I’m not surprised,” Wagenblast said, that some riders are unenthusiastic about hearing Santa while, say, on their way to work at rush hour.
“Not everyone is a fan of everything. I just hope the messages put a smile on someone’s face, especially kids who are on the train," he said.
John Hanson, chief executive officer of PATCO’s parent, the Delaware River Port Authority, credited John Rink, general manager of the rail line, and board vice-chairman Jeff Nash with the idea of brightening the holidays with the voice of Santa.
“We did this because we thought it would be fun,” he said. “Not everyone celebrates Christmas, and we were concerned about offending people, but Santa is more of a secular figure.”
Said Nash, who also serves as a Camden County freeholder: “I take PATCO all the time, and I hear the same announcements in the same voice over and over. I thought having Santa make the announcements would be a nice change of pace and would help get riders into the holiday spirit.”
Eager to gauge the impact, Nash, Rink, and corporate communications chief Mike Williams got on an express train at Woodcrest station on the morning Santa debuted and were surprised by the seeming lack of rider reaction.
“Barely anyone looked up,” Nash said.
But PATCO has been cultivating a robust presence on Twitter @RidePATCO and elsewhere on social media in recent years, and by the end of the day, comments were rolling.
So much so that PATCO sent Santa a sample of the Tweets.
“We know he’s busy,” Hanson said. "But we hope to receive a video response before Christmas.”