Holidays in Philly

Thanksgiving travel prep: Philly region to see biggest driving day in a decade

Amtrak is also expecting a crush, but it’ll increase service to accommodate.

Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

Thanksgiving isn’t just when Americans gather with family, eat excessive amounts of food and unabashedly watch football all day. It’s also the second-most traveled holiday in the country.

If you’re one of the folks making a trip, do your planning well: all industry estimations point to record-breaking numbers on the roads, rails and airways this year.

Close to 665,000 people from Philadelphia and the five surrounding counties are expected to drive or fly to new destinations for the holiday this year, according to AAA. That’s the highest in more than a decade, contributing to 55 million nationwide.

For flying, the post-holiday Sunday is big, with Airlines for America also predicting the rush to cause “the busiest travel day ever for the U.S. airline industry.”

Here’s what Philly area transit are doing to prep for the “Turkey Trot.”

Driving: it’s bad in both directions

Even if your regular habits don’t include a car, it’s likely you’ll be in one for this holiday. In contrast to the airports, Pennsylvania roadways accommodate the most traffic on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, according to PennDOT — and it’s a lot of vehicles.

According to AAA data, 89 percent of Philly-area Thanksgiving travelers drive to their destinations: More than 590k of the total 665k local travelers will depend on autos to get them to their destinations.

What’s the dollar cost? Average gas price in and around Philadelphia is about $2.74 right now, just a bit lower than last year’s $2.79 average.

The Philadelphia Streets Department and PennDOT care for local roads all year long and don’t do much more in the way of prep ahead of the holiday rush. The agencies will continue to deploy crews in an emergency, but a PennDOT spokesperson said the department pulls back on routine maintenance during Thanksgiving travel. The department is asking contractors and maintenance crews to steer clear of restricting roads and high traffic areas between Wednesday, Nov. 27 until the Monday morning after Thanksgiving.

And if you think traffic particularly sucks in the direction you happen to be driving, not so, per spokesperson Brad Rudolph. Thanksgiving traffic flows pretty evenly in all directions in and out of the city, Rudolph told Billy Penn.

Amtrak is busy but prepped

Rail travelers have it good. Amtrak will operate its Acela train from Boston to Washington D.C. and its Northeast Regional train from Boston to Richmond on full and extended schedules with increased frequency through Thanksgiving week.

Amtrak’s Pennsylvania trains, the Keystone Service and Empire Service, will also have increased holiday capacity.

Last year, 90,157 Amtrak customers traveled through 30th Street Station during the week of Thanksgiving — the highest number of customers to date for the holiday, a spokesperson told Billy Penn.

For the Philly area, Thanksgiving travel typically kicks off the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and lasts heavily through the Sunday after. That Sunday is the day Amtrak sees the highest volume, a spokesperson said.

“On Tuesday 11/20, we saw a 39.2% increase from a typical day,” spokesperson Beth Toll said in an email. “On Sunday 11/25, we saw a 28% increase from a typical day.

SEPTA adjusts for shopping and parade

As might be expected for a system that is honed for local travel, SEPTA doesn’t see a huge spike in Thanksgiving ridership, per authority spokesperson Andrew Busch, so it doesn’t make many adjustments.

For now, SEPTA is focused on detouring several bus routes to accommodate the annual Thanksgiving Parade. There’s also a perk for the Black Friday shoppers: SEPTA will bolster services on buses that travel to local malls.

For real-time updates, Busch recommended riders monitor the SEPTA website during holiday travel.

Want some more? Explore other Holidays in Philly stories.

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Travel, Holidays