Courtesy U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
When the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America hold the 34th National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Philadelphia from August 12-17, SEPTA will have the opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to those who have served the Armed Forces.
The Authority will provide transportation for the more than 500 veterans with spinal cord injury, amputations and neurological disorders that will travel to Philadelphia from across the country and the United Kingdom to compete in swimming, basketball, quad rugby, softball, track and field and other sporting events.
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Supplying buses for the Wheelchair Games has been more than a year-long involvement for SEPTA and has the efforts of many teams, from operations and surface transportation to vehicle maintenance, as well as coordination with the Philadelphia VA office.
Vehicle retrofitting process taking place at SEPTA’s Berridge Shop. Photos: Harry Maxwell
For the month prior to the Games, SEPTA vehicle maintenance staff has been retrofitting 22 of the Authority’s 40-foot buses, removing all of the lower level seats and replacing them with tie-down equipment to accommodate wheelchairs. Following the event, the seats will be re-installed and the buses will be put back into revenue service.
"We were excited about the possibility to contract with the Games and provide our buses for the athletes,” said Jerry Guaracino, SEPTA’s Assistant Chief Mechanical Officer. “SEPTA had experience taking thousands of visitors to the 2013 U.S. Open, but not hundreds of wheelchair passengers at one time. We knew that outfitting our buses would be a challenge for the Authority, but a task that we needed to undertake.”
During the Games, SEPTA operators will transport the participants and guests to and from event locations, the Philadelphia Airport, and other select locations around the Greater Philadelphia Region.
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The National Veterans Wheelchair Games is the world’s largest annual wheelchair sports competition. “SEPTA is thrilled to provide transportation for the Wheelchair Games,” said Guaracino. “Not only is it exciting that our region is hosting these event and the exceptional athletes that participate, SEPTA is proud that we are able to give back to those who bravely fought for our country.”
SEPTA, like other transportation organizations across the country, has made an effort to bringing veterans into its workforce. Many veterans are currently employed in positions throughout the Authority and the company has made a commitment to hiring more former members of the Armed Forces. For the first half of 2014, almost 10% of SEPTA’s new hires in targeted positions such as bus operators, track laborers, custodians and rail conductor trainees have been veterans — up from 8% for all of 2013.