Running buses in the shadows

charter bus

Discount bus lines provide discount fares and - passengers would be wise to assume - discount safety.

Last month, a deadly accident on Interstate 95 south of Fredericksburg renewed scrutiny of an industry that has repeatedly and brazenly taken advantage of pitifully lax oversight by state and federal regulators.

Despite vows by federal officials to improve safety, passengers have little hope of determining in advance whether the buses they board undertake basic safety precautions.

At least eight discount bus lines in Virginia Beach and Norfolk make daily runs to New York and Washington, The Pilot's Mike Hixenbaugh reported Saturday. But only two of those companies show up on a federal database designed to help passengers check out safety records.

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Timber suffers a chop in soft March quarter

SOFTWOOD product prices fell in the March quarter, along with wood production and construction of new houses, according to consulting firm URS.

There were wide-ranging price declines, particularly in structural grades MGP10 (Machine Graded Pine) and MGP12, plywood and laminated veneer lumber (LVL), said URS in its March quarter timber survey.

Residential housing, a strong driver of demand for timber products, continued to struggle.

The value of dwelling approvals fell by 7.1 per cent in the quarter, while residential alterations and additions approvals decreased by 6.4 per cent.

The high value of the Australian dollar - which has ranged between US99¢ and $US1.09 since the start of the year - boosted the competitiveness of wood-product imports.

The share of softwood timber imports from New Zealand and Europe fell by 16 and 7 per cent respectively in the March quarter. At the same time, softwood imports from Canada and the US rose respectively by 58 and 55 per cent.

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Clamping down on bus safety

bus safety

In recent weeks, federal authorities have shut down four motor coach operators for presenting an "imminent danger" to the public. Unqualified bus drivers, poorly kept records, and even instances of allowing passengers to ride in bus luggage compartments were among the myriad safety violations that caused the offending companies to be shut down.

Whether the actions will actually keep the companies out of business is another question. Such charter operators have a penchant for resurfacing under a new name — but with the same dangerous ways of doing business.

Since January, there have been six bus crashes resulting in 25 deaths, a string of accidents that has rightfully raised alarms in Washington. While bus travel has long been regarded as one of the safest modes of transportation in this country, the rise of discount charter operators and wholly unregulated web sites that broker tickets for these companies is a relatively new threat.

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Universal Forest looks at asset sale, job cuts


Wood products maker Universal Forest Products Inc said it may consolidate or divest underperforming assets and cut jobs, due to weaker-than-expected sales this year.

The Grand Rapids, Michigan-based company said it will save $10 million annually, before one-time charges for severances related to the reductions.

Year-to-date net sales through May were down 9.5 percent to $765 million compared to the year-ago period, including a 15 percent drop in net sales to retail customers.

"Retail sales during what is historically our busiest selling season didn't materialize as expected this year," Chief Executive Michael Glenn said in a statement.

The company supplies lumber, plastic, and other building materials for the so-called do-it-yourself market, providing consumers with the tools needed for personal projects.

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Infobus gives pupils a taste of travel on the buses

Bus Travel

A specially-designed info bus will be stopping at all city primary schools giving Year 6 pupils a taste of bus travel.

The bus tour comes before most of the pupils move on to secondary schools where many of them will be catching buses for the first time. The info bus gives information about safe travel by bus and details of Citycard 360, Nottingham's public transport travel card that also offers extra value and discounts at shops, cafes, leisure centres, gyms and attractions.

The specially developed 'infolink' bus has an on-board DVD player, lap top connection and fully stocked leaflet racks and mini timetables.

Councillor Jane Urquhart, Nottingham City Council's Portfolio holder for Planning and Transport, said: "By the end of the summer term around 3,500 Year 6 pupils will have the chance to try out the info bus. The bus and driver provide a fun but informative way for the pupils to find out how to catch the bus safely, what to do and what not to do when travelling by bus, where to get information and help, plus answer any questions about travelling to secondary school by bus. A DVD is played to the groups about travelling by bus, the driver gives the group a talk about bus travel.

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Port of Olympia busy with timber exports to Asia

Timber Exports

Northwest forests are providing a boost to the building boom in China and will likely help with the rebuilding of post-tsunami Japan. The region's loggers and longshoremen can say thanks, in part, to the Russians.

About a mile from the state Capitol as the gull flies or the salmon swims, logs cut in Southwest Washington and the Olympic Peninsula are gathered in stacks two to three stories high. After being bark-stripped and graded, they wait for cargo freighters like the Louise Bulker to navigate Budd Inlet at the southern end of Puget Sound and tie up at the Port of Olympia.

Nearly as long as two football fields, the Louise Bulker arrived empty two weeks ago. When it left four days later for Tianshin, China, longshoremen and stevedores had filled its holds and stacked the deck 15 to 20 logs high with some 5.5 million board feet of timber.

Many Northwest ports are experiencing a boom in log shipments, but nowhere is it more dramatic than in Olympia, where Weyerhaeuser moved one of its exporting operations from Tacoma about two years ago to service its Japan trade. Pacific Lumber and Shipping also has increased its use of the Olympia port for shipments to China.

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Charter schools popular with parents

charter school bus

Principal Karen Schade looks aLinkt the departing third graders, a satisfied smile crossing her face.

"I love being here. It's a wonderful environment," she says.

Schade has been principal of School Lane since 2002. The school has 596 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and a waiting list of applicants.

"We really get the opportunity to try out new educational theories...We're not here saying we're better than a school district. We're offering a different environment, a different program. Our message is to provide a safe environment for kids to learn - not just physically safe, but emotionally and intellectually as well."

That message becomes apparent in the comments of students and staff alike. This school is working.

"It's not a boring school; it's a fun school," says Sasha Wilkerson of Bensalem, a second-grader.

School Lane is making "adequate yearly progress" for all but one year since the Pennsylvania Systen of School Assessment was initiated about six years ago.

If you had to give a report card to today's charter schools, most would earn good grades. The charter-school movement began in 1997 through a federal initiative to bring more innovation to public education.

Charter schools are schools founded by parents or educators, which receive a charter to operate for a certain number of years. The charters can be renewed. The schools are funded by the school districts in which their students reside, based on a per-student cost formula for educating a child in that district, explains Wendy Ormsby, director of the Souderton Charter School Cooperative.

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Malaysia: Strengthening ringgit hist furniture exports


With the Malaysian ringgit strengthening against most major currencies, including the US dollar, the Euro and Sterling, a decline in furniture exports in the current year is being forecast.

Exports of Malaysian furniture are expected to decline by up to 15%, from RM7.95 billion in 2010 to RM6.8 billion for 2011. This decline would be the worst in the past 3 years.

The Malaysia Furniture Entrepreneur Association (MFEA) reported that exports by its members had declined from RM1.97 billion in the first quarter 2010 to RM1.66 billion in the first quarter of 2011. Exports for the second quarter are expected to come in below RM1.98 billion.
v For the Japanese furniture market, exports registered a 12% decline to RM166 million for the first quarter 2011 compared to RM186 million for the first quarter 2010. Japan was the second largest market for MFEA members in 2010, with exports valued at RM709 million out of a total of RM7.95 billion for the year.

Global WoodMart - one-stop centre for buyers and suppliers
The Malaysian Timber Council (MTC) expects that its Global WoodMart (MGW) 2012 exhibition will showcase timber and timber products from both tropical and temperate countries. MTC added that MGW 2012 will act as a one-stop centre for both buyers and suppliers of timber and timber products.

Official partner organizations of MGW 2012 are the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and FrenchTimber. AHEC has been active in the Asian markets for many years but FrenchTimber is a relative newcomer.

FrenchTimber was formed in 2001 at the initiative of the “Fédération Nationale du Bois” and a group of French sawmills and it pursues two main goals :

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PSC to investigate charter bus company

charter bus

Staff members of Georgia's Public Service Commission said Thursday they are investigating whether a charter bus company already grounded by the federal government has violated any state regulations.

Last week, CBS Atlanta News informed the PSC that the federal government had ordered East Point-based JCT Motorcoach to stop carrying passengers after finding the company was operating illegally under a different name.

The feds said the company had falsified vehicle maintenance records and used drivers that tested positive for alcohol and drugs.

Despite the federal order, the company is still certified and licensed in the state of Georgia.

CBS Atlanta's consumer investigator Adam Murphy was forcefully pushed out of the bus company's office last Friday when he showed up to question its owners.

Murphy then informed the PSC about the federal order.

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Timber harvests improve from worst year ever


The state’s timber harvests rebounded in 2010 after a record low the previous year, driven by a buying boom in China, according to an annual report by the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Harvests increased for every forest ownership class except for the Bureau of Land Management, accounting for a total of 3.2 billion board feet and a 17 percent increase over the 2009 numbers, state timber economists say.

In Columbia County, the amount of timber harvested rose at a rate less than the state average, going from 113 million board feet in 2009 to 123 million board feet in 2010.

But loggers say their situation remains far from optimal. After all, 2009 saw the worst logging output since the Great Depression.

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Lake Wales to Provide All Schools Bus Service

school bus

Beginning next school year, the Lake Wales Charter System will provide its own bus transportation for all of its students.

Previously, the charter system only provided bus transportation for three of its six schools: Bok Academy, Babson Park Elementary and Hillcrest Elementary.

"Transportation for us is very important because it gives us control over the bell schedule," said Robin Gibson, a Lake Wales lawyer who represents the charter schools.

Gibson said the system is considering changing its school hours to possibly a longer day.

"We haven't decided anything but we need the options for the length of the scheduling," Gibson said.

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Wood waste fuels debate on measure to exempt biomass from state solid waste regulations

Most Oregon legislators agreed Monday that one man’s trash is another man’s fuel and the state shouldn’t interfere with his ability to put it to good use while others opposed a measure to exempt woody biomass from regulations applied to solid wastes.

Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany, introduced House Bill 3687 as a solution to uncertainty about what state rules should apply to woody biomass burners, which generate power by super-heating wood byproducts previously treated as waste. The technology is generally considered a renewable source of energy since it is fueled by what would otherwise go unused and works within the existing carbon cycle of forests rather than burning fossil fuels that were removed from the cycle under the Earth’s surface.

“Treating biomass boilers as solid waste incinerators could result in closures of existing biomass facilities and slow the development of new ones,” Olson said, which he feared would cost Oregonians jobs and weaken the state’s push for renewable energy sources.

Yet some argued the bill would the exact opposite if approved by the Senate and became law.

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Michigan charter bus service shut down by federal government

charter bus

Haines Tours of Gladwin, Michigan, has been ordered to immediately cease operations by the United States Department of Transportation. They are the third bus company to be shut down by the federal government this month.

The order came following a citation given on May 27 to Roger Haines, owner of Haines Tours, for carrying passengers in the bus’s cargo compartment. The ticket was given by an Ohio Highway Patrol officer in Lake Township, Ohio. The bus was chartered to take 62 passengers from Roscommon, Michigan, to Clyde, Ohio. However six of the 62 were found to be riding in the cargo compartment with unsecured baggage.

“Great customer service is not always saying, ‘yes’,” says Guillermo Williams of Rochester Hills’ Max Impact, a customer service training company. “Sometimes you have to say ‘no’ for safety or legal reasons.”

He said that when a customer’s demands or desires cannot be legally meet great customer service dictates gently but firmly explaining the reasons.

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Oregon's timber harvest rebounds, sort of

Timber Harvest

Coming back from the worst year on record, Oregon's 2010 timber harvest increased 17 percent to to 3.2 billion board feet.

A spike in lumber prices and increased exports to China drove up the demand and price for logs, which in turn caused the increased harvest total, according to an Oregon Department of Forestry news release.

Oregon loggers cut 2.7 billion board feet in 2009, a record low. A board foot is a slab of wood 12 inches square and one inch thick.

The increased cut in 2010 came primarily from private timberland. Large corporate owners provided 2.2 billion board feet, or 68 percent of the harvest. Smaller family forest owners increased their harvest by 145 percent to a total of 228 million board feet.

The timber harvest on land managed by the U.S. Forest Service -- which has the largest timber holdings in Oregon -- increased by 32 percent, to 254 million board feet.

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Charter bus carrying high school students hits overturned rig on Ala. interstate; dozens hurt

charter bus

A charter bus full of teenagers from Texas collided with an overturned tractor-trailer rig on a dark stretch of Interstate 10 near the Mississippi line early Monday, injuring about two dozen people.

One passenger was listed in serious condition, authorities said, but the rest of the injuries were believed to be relatively minor cuts and bruises.

Greg Eubanks, an Alabama state trooper spokesman in Mobile, said a bus carrying 48 teenagers and two chaperones from Del Rio, Texas, to Orlando, Fla., slammed into the trailer of an 18-wheeler moments after it overturned just a few miles inside Alabama on I-10 about 12:30 a.m. CDT.

“The bus (driver) just didn’t see it,” Eubanks said. A second bus also full of students from Del Rio wasn’t involved in the crash, he said.

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Wood smugglers eye Maha forests

Wood Forest

Wood smugglers of the district are eyeing Maharashtra's dense forest as no quality teak wood is left in the forests in the district now. They are illegally transporting teak wood into Adilabad from bordering Maharashtra.

Adilabad forest officials are going to hold a meeting with forest officials of Maharashtra next month to control wood smuggling in bordering areas. Maharashtra forest staff inspecting the forests ope-ned fire on wood smugglers entering their forests in Kinwat taluk through the Kosai jungles in Talamad-ugu bordering Maharashtra. Wood smugglers are transporting teak wood into Adilabad from bordering Mah-arashtra by crossing the river Penganga which does not have much water now.

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How safe are the buses in your school district?

school bus

The highway patrol just released the results of more than 1,000 school bus inspections.

The good news is 89-percent received passing scores.

But some districts had to make repairs.

KRCG’s Facebook crew breaks down the results.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol inspects buses every February, March, April and again before the school year starts.

The highway patrol believes the inspections are making buses a lot safer.

"School buses are probably one of the safest modes of transportation we have when you look at traffic crash statistics. In most cases students do not actually get injured or killed when they're on a school bus, it's after they get off that crashes occur,” MO State Highway Patrol Capt. Tim Hull said.

Out of 1,006 bus inspections 28 buses were marked out of service.

Smaller districts are hit hardest because they have fewer buses running.

For example: the numbers show 33-percent of Fayette’s buses were ordered out of service, that's 4 out of 12.

A major defect forcing a district to take a bus off the streets could be something like a cracked frame, or a fuel leak.

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Wood producers want govt to check plywood smuggling


Wood producers are calling the Department of Trade and Industry's (DTI) attention regarding the illegal importation of plywood from China, saying the product is threatening the businesses of local producers and the safety of consumers.

Smuggled plywood, the Philippine Woods Producers Association (PWPA) said in a press conference on Tuesday, is only 4.5mm thin but often marketed to be 5mm thick. Chinese plywood is also unable to handle sanding and contains glue with high formaldehyde emissions, endangering those who work with the material, it added.

The Chinese version sells at a lower price and has forced local producers to lower their own prices in order to compete with the smuggled plywood.

"This is a coy attempt at tricking consumers who are usually naive of the existence of such standards. It also robs the government of unpaid VAT and import duties amounting to about P76 to P80 million monthly for 400 forty-foot container vans. These illegal imports unfairly compete and undercut the prices of local plywood manufacturers," said PWPA deputy director Maila Vasquez.

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City schools battling bus bill


Columbus City Schools must slash the number of COTA bus rides it purchases next school year for its high-school students to keep the annual cost from rising, but officials couldn't say last week how the cutbacks would be made.

"Once we have a decision on the COTA bus passes for students, we will share that information with all impacted students and their families," a district representative wrote in an email.

The district used to pay a flat fee for bus service for all high-school students, but now it pays 90cents per student ride. The contract that started in October capped the total cost at $600,000 for the first year, but that limit goes away this fall.

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Wood producers ask for extension to haul, transport timber


Wood producers have called on the Environment Department to extend deadlines to haul previously-cut timber so that processors would be able to recoup their investments.

Under Executive Order 23, or the moratorium on wood harvesting, wood producers were given a three-month period to transport timber cut prior to the enforcement of the EO. The moratorium expired on May 21, three months after the February 21 reckoning date.

“Since these are wood that have been cut prior to approval of EO 23, we think it is only appropriate to allow us an extension of the deadline. This will help keep the wood industry alive until the government decides to revoke the moratorium," Philippine Woods Producers Association (PWPA) deputy director Maila Vasquez said in an interview over the weekend.

The moratorium on wood transport is not the only thing that is worrying wood producers lately.

Last week, PWPA called on government to tighten its watch over the illegal importation of plywood from China.

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Delta bus firm belts up for passenger safety

charter bus

They are commonplace on just about every vehicle on the road today, but a Delta-based transportation company is rolling through new territory with seat belts for its passengers.

The three-point safety restraints come on eight, brand new, 56-passenger motor coaches ordered by Charter Bus Lines which is headquartered on River Road, just west of the Alex Fraser Bridge.

Built at the Prevost plant in Quebec, Charter Bus Lines decided to get ahead of the curve and have them equipped with the belts. Legislation to have seat belts on all new buses is expected to be introduced by 2014.

Sheldon Eggen, president and CEO of Charter Bus Lines, which has been in business since 1949, said the choice to go with the belts earlier than required was really no choice at all.

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Just like a forest


Analog forestry mimics a forest to create an economically productive and ecologically diverse landscape
It’s afternoon and wisps of clouds have already enveloped the Sora Muni shrine that keeps watch over Sri Lanka’s Horton Plains massif. Here, Tamil workers of the Thotulagalla tea estate in Haputale offer a sacrificial goat to the deity following the annual pruning of tea bushes.

It is ironic to see principles of analog forestry being piloted in a tea plantation. In its intent and design this silvicultural practice cocks a snook at the country’s monocultural plantation economy, a vestige of the colonial landscape.

Analog forestry attempts to create an economically productive and ecologically diverse tree-dominated landscape ‘analogous’ in structure and function to the nearest stable forest. It draws inspiration from the home gardens of rural Kandy which are highly productive, intensively farmed small plots that produce food throughout the year.

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