SEPTA is paying $500,000 a year for information technology services to CapTech Consulting Inc., the company hired to design and build an e-commerce site on the agency's home page to sell special transit passes for the September papal visit.
The site crashed within minutes of going live Monday morningand has remained down all week, as SEPTA considers hiring another outside vendor to sell the online passes if CapTech cannot solve the problems.
The Wayne office of CapTech, a Richmond, Va.-based company, was awarded a three-year$1.5 million contract in March to perform information technology tasks for SEPTA.
SEPTA has paid CapTech $16,000 of a planned payment of $84,520for the e-commerce site to handle online sales of the transit passes for Pope Francis' visit.
By Monday, SEPTA will decide whether to go forward with a revamped site from CapTech or hire another vendor, SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams said.
The online site to sell papal passes was CapTech's first venture into e-commerce for SEPTA, Williams said. "I don't know if they've done this before," she said,regarding CapTech's expertise with e-commerce.
A spokeswoman for CapTech said the company has done previous e-commerce jobs, but she declined to describe them or comment on CapTech's work on the papal passes, referring all questions to SEPTA.
CapTech technicians are working on a way to limit the number of would-be purchasers of the papal passes who can access the SEPTA site at one time, to prevent the kind of electronic stampede that overwhelmed the site on Monday.
The problem must be solved soon, because sales must begin by early August to allow SEPTA passes to be mailed to international buyers for the Sept. 26 and 27 papal visit, Williams said.
The e-commerce site created for SEPTA by CapTech and subcontractor Zivtech, of Philadelphia, crashed under high demand on Monday, shortly after sales began at 9 a.m. Attempts to reach officials at Zivtech to talk about the situation were unsuccessful.
Only 201 Regional Rail passes were sold, of the 175,000 SEPTA said will be available for each of the two days of the pope's visit.
"I don't think anybody anticipated we would get 54,000 unique visits to the site in a minute," Williams said, indicating SEPTA testers had completed 1,700 transactions per minute. "There are very few sites that would have been able to handle that."
Jennifer Booker, an e-commerce expert at Drexel University, said SEPTA probably needed more computer servers to meet the demand, and she speculated that SEPTA had not properly estimated how many non-pope customers would be seeking transit passes to get to work during that weekend.
"There are obviously sites that handle millions of transactions a day, so it can be done," Booker said, citing such e-commerce giants as Amazon, eBay, and PayPal.
She said it was also possible that SEPTA lacked sufficient bandwidth to provide enough internet access. Booker said SEPTA and its technical consultants are probably "frantically trying" now to lease additional server capacity to accommodate the demand.