Friday, November 14, 2008

Integrian Considering Buy Out Opportunities

Morrisville, N.C. — High-tech startup Integrian, which is backed by several well-known investors such as Credit Suisse and Motorola, is in negotiations to be acquired by another firm.

“We have a lot of people looking to acquire this business,” said Chief Executive Officer Pete Durand, “I’m in discussions on the merger-and-acquisition front. We definitely have people trying to buy the company.”

Durand dismissed any talk that the company might close.

“We’re not shutting our doors today,” he said. “That is not something we have discussed right now.”

Integrian recently did convert $14.8 million in debt into equity in the firm as part of a restructuring, Durand added. PricewaterhouseCoopers reported in its most recent “MoneyTree” venture survey that Integrian had raised that amount in new financing.

“There wasn’t new funding,” Durand said. “We converted a bridge [financing] note.”

Integrian employs around 100 people. The company has raised more than $60 million from investors since it launched in 1999. Intersouth, which is based in Durham, and Wakefield Group in Chapel Hill are Integrian backers along with Polaris Ventures, Motorola and Credit Suisse.

Suzanne Cantando, a spokesperson for Integrian investor Intersouth, deferred comments about the company to Durand.

Integrian, which is focused on mobile video technology, launched in 1999 and raised more than $14 million in venture capital before making a big acquisition move in 2005 that didn’t work out.

With Credit Suisse coming onboard as a major backer, Integrian put together a syndicate of $36 million and then spent $30 million of it to buy Innovonics, a competitor based in Australia. Innovonics concentrated on technology for video surveillance in environments such as railroad stations. Integrian shut down that part of the business last November and cut its headcount by about half.

Integrian also acquired two other companies over the past three years, Signal Innovations Group in RTP and Digital Safety Technologies.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Winnipeg School Buses Being Fitted with Traffic Cameras to Catch Reckless Drivers

WINNIPEG — Drivers might want to think twice before putting their foot to the floor to illegally pass a stopped school bus.

A Winnipeg school board is braving new ground in a bid to stop reckless drivers by turning their buses into mobile traffic cameras.

The city's Seven Oaks school board is installing exterior cameras, which record the license plate, make of the car, even the hair colour of the driver who passes a school bus illegally.

Although the board is among the first in Canada to take the step, transportation experts say the cameras will become much more common on the roads as the technology continues to improve and prices fall.

Don Remillard, director of transportation with Seven Oaks, said complaints from school bus drivers about cars constantly blowing past stopped school buses while children were getting on or off prompted the board to outfit eight of its 37 buses with digital cameras. The cameras will become standard options on new school buses within the next few years, he said.

In the past, bus drivers were asked to write down the licence plate numbers of offending drivers. Now Remillard said they will have something much more substantial to hand over to police.

"What's happened in the past, it becomes an issue of 'he said, she said'," Remillard said.

"If we have this photography, they can go to court with it and it holds up in court."

While some say installing outdoor cameras on buses isn't going to stop drivers from taking risks, others argue it will deter people by putting virtually irrefutable evidence in the hands of police and judges.

Bill Langdon, president of King Transportation in Manitoba, said the technology now available to school buses is incredible.

Where older clunky cameras used to record blurry images, he said today's digital ones can pick up sound and even record in the dark using night vision. A judge would be crazy not to admit such tapes into evidence when a child's life is at risk, he said.

"A picture is worth a thousand words," said Langdon, whose company provides transportation, maintenance and consulting services across Canada.

"I love it. In most cases, (the driver) won't even argue."

Camera manufacturers are practically "giving them away" to encourage school boards to install them, said Ken Reimer with Ford Fairway bus sales in Steinbach, Man.

While the cameras will be a tough sell in rural communities, Reimer said they are becoming increasingly popular in the city.

But some say such cameras are vulnerable to the same legal challenges as red-light cameras and won't do anything to stop aggressive drivers who are determined to pass a school bus.

Brian Lawrie, founder of the traffic ticket defence company Pointts, said school bus cameras likely won't be able to identify who was driving the car when it sped past a stopped bus.

Lawrie, a former police officer, said it also won't do much to stop drivers who are in a hurry.

"Short of laying down spike strips behind these buses, I don't know how you're going to stop these people," he said.

But he has a few ideas: Increase police enforcement and create heavier penalties for drivers who are caught. He said people who are pulled over by police don't soon forget the experience, especially if they stand to lose six demerit points and face a $2,000 fine.

All the video compiled by school buses around the country won't make a difference if police don't have the resources to enforce the law, he added.

"The only thing you can do is increase the certainty of being caught," Lawrie said. "That's the best deterrent."

What is Necessary for School Bus Safety?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Video Shows Dallas School Bus Driver Choking Student


DALLAS - A camera captured images of a mentally challenged-bipolar student being choked by a school bus driver in Dallas.

On a normal day, the Dallas County bus driver, Janet Pitts, would have a monitor on board to help with students like Xavier, a middle school student. But that wasn't the case one day in January. The monitor couldn't make it that day.

Within minutes of the bus pulling away from the school, Xavier began to act up by moving around the bus and shouting obscenities.

Watching the video, Pitts' patience begins to visibly wear out.

"I'm stopping to come get you," she said.

Xavier starts rapping and then throws a can at Pitts.

"You want me to beat you [expletive]?" Pitts can be heard yelling at Xavier. "You don't do that no more. You hear me? Don't do that no more. Sit down, do you understand?"

Back at the wheel, Pitts continues to voice her frustration.

"He threw a can up here, I got up and choked the [expletive] out of his [expletive]," she said.

Just weeks ago, News 8 set out with only the tape in hand to find out the details of the incident. Once News 8 found Xavier's family, it was discovered they were never informed of the incident.

For the first time, Xavier's mom - Claudia Nava - saw the video, which was recorded nine months ago. The same week of the incident, Nava reported scratches on her son. A Dallas County employee followed up but never told Nava the driver admitted to choking her son.

"It makes me really mad," Nava said.

Nava said she knows her son can be violent. She requested a monitor to be on board the bus for that very reason.

"I want everyone to understand he's not acting that way because he wants to," she said. "He just can't express himself."

Dale Kiser, with the National Education Association, says it isn't the driver's fault. Instead, he blames the system.

"It's been stated, documented [and] everything else that there should always be a monitor on this particular student on that bus," he said.

But the county disagrees.

"There was nothing that was written that said there had to be a monitor on that bus with that child," said Deanne Hullender, a spokeswoman for Dallas County Schools.

That's not true according to the special education department. Documents obtained by News 8 show "there was a request made [by special education] that there should be a monitor on the bus at all times due to this child's aggressive behavior."

However, getting that help isn't always easy. There are only 150 monitors for all 4,500 Dallas special education students.

Hiring more costs money the district doesn't have.

"The district pays for the monitors," said Rick Sorrells, Dallas County superintendent.

Documents show dozens of incidents where special education bus drivers were forced to take off without backup. That didn't help Pitts' case. She was terminated, but appealed the decision.

A note from the director of transportation dated back in April read "get this driver off a DISD bus." The board decided to reinstate Pitts in April.

As for why Nava wasn't given information about the incident, educators say they have to protect personnel matters by the book.

"That's privileged information," Kiser said. "That sort of thing isn't readily shared with anybody."

Now, seven months later - only after the family started asking questions and News 8 prepared to run a report - things changed. Last week, the board called a special meeting to terminate Pitts from the county. She resigned before that happened.

"God knows how many other incidents have happened," Nava said.

Tapes on board the Dallas County busses often don't work. VCRs have been reported out of order and tapes broken or missing.

"If it is bumpy, with the older technology, the tapes themselves could eject," Sorrells said.

At the cost of a million dollars, Dallas County does plan to upgrade each bus with better technology. It's something the superintendent says is a must after an incident like Xavier's.

"One of those is too many to have if we can't review it," he said.

Because of the incident, the county has changed its policies. Now, all special education bus drivers must be certified to properly restrain children. Monitors must also be present, even if it means an administrator has to hop on the bus at the last minute.

As for Pitts and the school district, neither would comment in relation to the story.


Saturday, November 08, 2008

Toronto Transit Commission Warns Passengers About Security Cameras

Tess Kalinowski
Transportation Reporter

Despite spending tens of millions of dollars on security cameras, assaults and threats against TTC drivers continue to climb.

So transit officials are taking steps to make sure that members of the public know they're being watched. By the end of February, the TTC's entire surface fleet of 2,100 vehicles will have cameras, at a cost of $19.8 million.

"We'll know what you look like, we will arrest you, the police will charge you and we will follow through with the Crown's office to prosecute you," said TTC spokesperson Brad Ross.

He said the cameras, already installed on 1,300 buses, are relatively new and riders may not yet be aware of them. That may help explain why they're not proving to be as much of a deterrent as officials had hoped.

Initiatives aimed at reducing driver assaults and threats have been in progress for a year and a half, yet there were 667 incidents last year, up from 565 two years earlier.

There have been some particularly disturbing incidents in recent weeks, including a recent incident at Ossington station in which a driver's elbow was broken, Ross said."We have close to 5,000 operators and they deserve to come to work and know they will be safe," TTC chair Adam Giambrone said yesterday at a demonstration of the camera systems.

The cameras do help in prosecuting those who commit crimes. TTC video footage has been requested by police 66 times this year.

Four cameras on each bus provide views of the front, rear and middle of the vehicle. Images are kept one to three days, with only police allowed access. The colour shots are of much higher quality than those of typical convenience-store security systems, Giambrone said.

The subway system already has 900 cameras and will have 2,300 by the end of 2011 – enough to give the TTC a picture of each person entering a station. The new Red Rocket subway cars that will be arriving in 2010 will have built-in cameras, but older cars won't be retrofitted.

"We have to take every action necessary to protect our employees," Giambrone said when asked whether the cameras are worth the cost. "This is being done across North America and Europe. Almost every large transit authority is investing in cameras."