Estonia To Become The World’s First Free Public Transport Nation

Tallinn, known for its digital government and successful tech startups, is often referred to as Europe’s innovation capital. Now celebrating five years of free public transport for all citizens, the government is planning to make Estonia the first free public transport nation. Allan Alaküla, Head of Tallinn European Union Office, shares some valuable insights for other cities.

Five years ago, citizens of Tallinn were asked in a referendum if free public transport should be realized. Why should citizens be involved in such political decisions?

“A decision for a long-term project should not only be taken by the current elected council, but it should be locked politically by asking for support from the public. Although a local referendum is not legally binding, the mandate from the popular vote is stronger than just from the council.”

How does this work out for the municipality?

“There’s no doubt that we not only cover the costs, but also come out with a surplus. We earned double as much as we have lost since introducing free public transport. We’re happy to see that so many people are motivated to register as residents in Tallinn to make use of free public transport.”

Who is profiting the most from free buses, trams and trains in Tallinn?

“A good thing is, of course, that it mostly appeals to people with lower to medium incomes. But free public transport also stimulates the mobility of higher-income groups. They are simply going out more often for entertainment, to restaurants, bars and cinemas. Therefore they consume local goods and services and are likely to spend more money, more often. In the end this makes local businesses thrive. It breathes new life into the city.”

What further actions is Tallinn taking to make the use of individual transport less attractive?

“Before introducing free public transport, the city center was crammed with cars. This situation has improved — also because we raised parking fees. When non-Tallinners leave their cars in a park-and-ride and check in to public transport on the same day, they can’t only use public transport for free, but also won’t be charged the parking fee. We noticed that people didn’t complain about high parking fees once we offered them a good alternative.”

What inspired the Estonian government to introduce free public transport all over the country?

“People in other parts of Estonia started to demand free public transport, too. In Wales, an experiment with free public transport is about to end in May, but has already been extended for another year. Taking this as an example, we would also like to remove the public transport ticketing for all rural connections in Estonia.”

What advice would you give to other European cities that are hesitant to implement free transport?

“Tallinn’s approach is not a universal solution for all and for some it might be too extreme. We know examples of cities in Poland, Germany and France that already realized free public transport or are considering it. But we’re also seeing plenty of partially free public transport ideas are being executed, ranging from free weekend rides and lower fares in off-peak hours to free public transport for the retired and students. Municipalities should be brave to use their city as a testing ground to find out what system is realistic for them to implement.”

Which city will be the next to copy Tallinn’s successful system?

“Right now, Paris is considering the introduction of free public transport — mostly to reduce pollution in the city center. Once a city of this size and scale takes the step, other cities will inevitably follow. No doubt about that.”

The EU Green Week 2018 will explore ways in which the European Union is helping cities to become better places to live and work. In a special article series, Pop-Up City will highlight some of the most inspiring green developments from across the continent. Join the #EUGreenWeek conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Turkish pilot saves 151 lives after making emergency landing in Jeddah.

A Turkish pilot saved the lives of 141 passengers and 10 crew aboard a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight by making an emergency landing in Jeddah late Monday.

The Airbus A330-200 controlled by pilot Ümit Atlat?rlar was heading to the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka from Medina, reports said.

The aircraft was reportedly leased from Turkey’s Onur Air.

The pilot successfully made the landing and kept the aircraft on the runway, allowing the evacuation of passengers and crew.

He circled around Jeddah for around three hours before making two low passes and finally made the landing with the nose gear retracted, reports said.

No injuries have been reported but the aircraft suffered significant damage.

In a statement, Onur Air said that the aircraft sustained a hydraulics malfunction due to an unknown cause.

The statement noted that the pilot successfully landed the plane by following crash-landing procedures in coordination with the Flight Operation Directorate, saving the lives of 151 people onboard the plane.

Both Onur Air and Saudi Arabian officials are investigating whether the accident was caused by outside factors.

Footage posted on social media showed flames coming from the nose of the aircraft after making the emergency landing.

Over 10,000 endangered tortoises are rescued in Madagascar

International conservationists in Madagascar have been treating more than 10,000 critically endangered radiated tortoises that were seized from traffickers who crammed the creatures into a home with no access to food or water.
The Turtle Survival Alliance and other groups are caring for the tortoises at a wildlife facility in the Ifaty region of the Indian Ocean nation, although hundreds have died from illness and dehydration.
The alliance says police found the radiated tortoises at a home in Toliara on April 10. The group said the amphibians native to southern Madagascar likely had been collected for the illegal pet trade, with Asia possibly the intended market.
Radiated tortoises are coveted for the star pattern on their shells.
Most of the surviving tortoises appear fairly healthy, said Susie Bartlett, a veterinarian with the Wildlife Conservation Society based at the Bronx Zoo. In an email, Bartlett described the challenges of working with the huge number of tortoises.
Each morning, ill tortoises that are under veterinary care are collected from their enclosures and brought to the clinic in large tubs and pans, Bartlett wrote. Sick animals are given subcutaneous fluids to rehydrate them and antibiotics if needed, along with vitamin supplementation. This is easily done with the sick tortoises that do not have much strength to retract their heads and legs.
However, as tortoises get stronger it gets more difficult to extend a leg out of a shell to find a fold of skin for an injection, according to Bartlett. Some of the rescued animals have eye and mouth infections and are given pain medicine.
Conservationists from zoos in the United States the Bronx Zoo, Zoo Knoxville in Tennessee, Hogle Zoo in Utah, Dallas Zoo and Oklahoma City Zoo are participating in the rescue. About 1,500 radiated tortoises deemed to be healthy have been moved to other facilities in Madagascar.
Radiated tortoises used to be found along roadways in the dry, spiny forests of south and southwest Madagascar. Poaching and habitat loss have taken a heavy toll, according to a red list of threatened species compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The list says Asian smugglers are known to collect the tortoises and that tortoise meat is popular among some people in Madagascar.

Alaska Airlines says ‘so long’ to non-recyclable plastic straws

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Alaska Airlines passengers will soon notice something different when they order in-flight cocktails or coffees.
No, the airline’s not changing a crucial ingredient. But those plastic stirring sticks? They’re about to go the way of paper tickets and empty middle seats.
Alaska Airlines will phase out plastic stirring sticks in favor of compostable versions made of white birch. Citrus picks will switch from plastic to bamboo.
It’s all in the name of the environment, swapping out the single-use plastic sticks for a more sustainable option. The changes begin July 16, when Alaska starts phasing out the plastic items from its flights and frequent-flier lounges.  
Though some global airlines have pledged to gradually reduce the use of such items, Alaska Airlines says its move will make it the first in the U.S. to eliminate them altogether.
“Plastic is a serious issue for our planet. What’s important is continuing to move the global supply chain toward making sustainable materials accessible and affordable,” Shaunta Hyde, Alaska Airlines’ managing director – community relations, says in a statement to USA TODAY’s Today in the Sky blog.
Alaska Airlines will switch from single-use plastic stir sticks to sustainable organic versions starting in July 2018. (Photo: Alaska Airlines)

Indeed, concern has been growing regarding the effect of plastic on the environment. Single-use plastic items – such as the straws and citrus picks Alaska Airlines is set to replace – have drawn particular scrutiny by environmental groups.
In a statement detailing the change, Alaska Airlines says “plastic straws are of special concern because they cannot be recycled, and they’ve been shown to kill birds and other marine life.”
After handing out a combined 22 million plastic stir straws and citrus picks on its flights and in its frequent-flier lounges in 2017, Alaska Airlines hopes its shift to sustainable versions will make a difference.
“I imagine this will make a big difference,” Hyde says about Alaska’s decision to shift to sustainable versions of the items. “They are a very real wood alternative, and quite nice.”
Alaska Airlines will switch from single-use plastic citrus picks to sustainable organic versions starting in July 2018. (Photo: Alaska Airlines)

Alaska Airlines also says it will introduce non-plastic, marine-friendly drinking straws for customers requesting them. Hyde says Alaska has not yet selected a compostable alternative yet for those but says “we will be using a product that is marine-friendly.”
More broadly, Alaska Airlines says the change is part of its overall goal to reduce its in-flight waste per passenger going to landfills by 70% by 2020.
Among the environmentally-focused changes already in place at the Seattle-based carrier: bottled beer has been replaced with aluminum cans, which are lighter and easier to recycle, according to the company. And a policy to refill plastic cups rather than requiring a new cup for every round of beverage service has recently been reintroduced.
For the effort with straws and citrus picks, Alaska Airlines has partnered with environmental group Lonely Whale, which has made “For A Strawless Ocean” one of its pillar campaigns.
“Plastic pollution is causing devastating marine life issues with plastic now found in the bellies of whales, turtles and more, including seabirds, of which 99% of all species are expected to have ingested plastic by the year 2050,” Lonely Whale executive director Dune Ives says to Today in the Sky. 
“The banning of single-use plastic beverage straws sets a new standard for the travel industry, and we couldn’t be happier that Alaska Airlines is the first U.S. airline to lead the charge,” Ives adds in the carrier’s media statement.
TODAY IN THE SKY: Alaska Airlines unveils new uniforms for 19,000 employees
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Dog Raises Ducklings After Mothers Death

Wing Commander John Butcher, Commanding Officer of 617 Squadron, left, jokes with Britain’s last surviving ‘Dambuster’, Squadron Leader George “Johnny” Johnson, during an event to mark the 75th anniversary of the ‘Dambusters’ raids, at RAF Coningsby. The Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight was hoping to fly one of the two remaining Avro Lancaster bombers over the Derwent and Ladybower reservoirs, but high winds prevented the aircraft from taking off. 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the formation of the RAF and the 75th anniversary of the 617 Squadron Dambusters operation. The Dambuster raids, or ”peration Chastise’ was an attack on German dams on 16-17 May 1943 by Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron, using an innovative ‘bouncing bomb’, which skimmed on the surface of the reservoir before hitting the dam wall and exploding.

Dominick Chilcott, right, British ambassador in Turkey, hands over a letter of apology from the UK government to Libyan dissident Abdel Hakim Belhaj, at the British Consulate, in Istanbul. Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife, Fatima Boudchar, allege they were detained in southeast Asia in 2004 and sent to Libya to be interrogated by the regime of late dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Britain acknowledged Thursday that its intelligence agents played a role in the kidnapping and torture of an opponent of the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, a rare admission of wrongdoing by British spies.

People release balloons outside Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, following the death on Saturday morning of Alfie Evans, who was being treated at the hospital. The 23-month-old died at 2.30am, parents Kate James and Thomas Evans said on Facebook. The youngster was at the centre of a legal battle over his treatment that touched hearts around the world.

Members of the military work in the Maltings shopping area, close to the bench where Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found critically ill seven weeks ago. The area around the bench where the couple collapsed is one of nine sites to be cleaned in an operation that is likely to take several months.

A statue in honour of the first female Suffragette Millicent Fawcett is unveiled as Prime Minister Theresa May and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan look on during a ceremony in Parliament Square. The statue of womens suffrage leader Millicent Fawcett is the first monument of a woman and the first designed by a woman, Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing OBE, to take a place in parliament Square.

A man pulls the flowers down from a fence opposite the house of Richard Osborn-Brooks in South Park Crescent in Hither Green, London. The shrine has become an unlikely flashpoint of tensions between the grieving family and his neighbours since last week’s incident where burglar Henry Vincent was killed by Richard Osborn-Brooks at his house.

Mount Everest female record-setter wants to be an inspiration.

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — The most successful female Everest climber said after finishing her ninth ascent of the world’s highest mountain that she wants to inspire all women so they too can achieve their dreams.

Lhakpa Sherpa was guiding some 50 climbers with her brother when she scaled the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) peak last week, breaking her own record for the most climbs of Mount Everest by a woman.

“If an uneducated woman who is a single mother can climb Everest nine times, any woman can achieve their dreams,” Sherpa said in Kathmandu on Wednesday.

“I want be an inspiration to all the women in the world that they too can achieve their goal,” she said.

The 44-year-old Sherpa never got a chance for formal education because she was already working carrying climbing gear and supplies for the trekkers.

She plans to climb the mountain again next year.

“People who are 70 years old are still climbing Everest, I am no where there,” she said adding that she was healthy and fit to continue mountaineering.

Her recent climb was the toughest of the nine, she said, adding there was a lot of wind and snow and they had to wait a few days to make their climb to the summit.

“Only two of our clients did not make but most of them made it to the top and were happy clients,” she said.

This successful expedition is likely to help her brother Mingma’s mountaineering company grow. It would also mean that Lhakpa can continue to climb Everest.

She says she is also looking forward to seeing her three children back in Connecticut, where she works as a dishwasher at the Whole Foods Market in West Hartford.

At ceremony in Kathmandu on Wednesday, tourism community honored her and and the overall record-holder for successful Everest climbs, Kami Rita, who has reached the summit 22 times, for their achievement and contribution to mountaineering in Nepal.

NY Jets rookie Nathan Shepherd went from having to drop out of school because he couldn’t afford it, to working odd jobs for two years in construction and factories, to walking on at a junior college, to finally being drafted in the NFL and signing a million dollar signing bonus.

Not every player has a straight and narrow path to the NFL. Just ask Jets defensive lineman Nathan Shepherd.

Over the weekend, Shepherd’s NFL dreams came true when New York selected him in the third round of the 2018 draft. Four years ago, though, Shepherd’s path strayed about as far away from a football field as one can get.

A native of Ajax, Ontario, Shepherd attended Simon Fraser University in British Columbia for two years before he could no longer afford tuition. Shepherd spent the next two years working numerous jobs in order to save up enough money to return to school and the football field.

Whether it was working in construction, at a plant nursery or at a printing factory, Shepherd did whatever it took to come up with enough cash to go back to school. He wondered if he would ever be able to find a way back onto the gridiron.

“Honestly, it brought me to the point where I had to look myself in the mirror and decide how much football meant to me,” Shepherd told reporters, according to the New York Post. “It was just one of those loves that I couldn’t get over. It became a matter of just do whatever you have to do to make your dreams come true.”

In 2015, Shepherd left Canada and wound up at Fort Hays State in the middle of Kansas. It was there that Shepherd became an NFL prospect and performed well enough in his two seasons at the school to earn an invite to the Senior Bowl.

According to Todd Bowles, Shepherd projects as a 3-4 defensive end. Bowles expects Shepherd to play a part in New York’s defensive line rotation as a rookie and could see time filling the hole vacated by Muhammad Wilkerson.

Wilkerson would still be in New York if it weren’t for his rebellious attitude and habitual tardiness. A Linden, New Jersey native, Wilkerson was not always that way. When the Jets selected him out of Temple in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, they were getting a player who was hungry to make a name for himself.

Wilkerson played with that kind of drive and competitiveness up until 2016, which is when he earned a hefty contract extension from the Jets. Once Wilkerson got his money, that drive disappeared and the player who was once heralded for his high motor became disinterested and a problem in the locker room.

It’s no surprise that general manager Mike Maccagnan coveted a player with drive and determination to take over the spot Wilkerson once held. Maccagnan has made a concerted effort to bring in high-character guys throughout New York’s rebuilding process and Shepherd fits the mold of what Maccagnan is looking for.

Based on his backstory, it’s easy to imagineShepherd’s work ethic is top-notch. It takes some serious determination to do what he did, giving up school and entering the workforce just to find a way back to the sport one day.

Credit Maccagnan for finding a player who not only flew under the radar from a talent perspective, but from a character standpoint, as well. Shepherd’s drive should take him a long way in the NFL and he deserves every ounce of success that is bound to come his way.

Anonymous donor gives $10,000 toward lunch debts at Maine school district

An anonymous donor sent a $10,000 to a Maine school district to help eliminate families’ unpaid lunch debt, The Press Herald reports.

Westbrook Superintendent Peter Lancia was being interviewed about student lunch debt on a local TV station when he received an email alerting him to the donation.

The donor, who wished to remain anonymous, said they wanted to help families’ unpaid accounts and later sent a $10,000 check to Lancia’s office.

“I’m not speechless often, and it was one of those moments,” Lancia told the newspaper in Portland, Maine.

The donation eliminated more than half of the $17,000 owed to the school district for student lunches.

Lancia told The Press Herald that number is high but is comparable to other school years.

Lunch at the elementary and middle schools cost $2.30, so the donation will help settle more than 4,300 meals.

Sometimes the school district provides the only stable, guaranteed meal for a child, the superintendent said.

“We have a lot of people who are living paycheck to paycheck, and they may not be able to make every end meet,” Lancia said.

The school district isn’t sure how they will divide the donation up between individual accounts, he told the newspaper.

“We want children to eat,” Lancia said. “We feed kids, and we settle the bills with parents later.”

Veronica Bates, a member of the Westbrook School Committee and chairperson of its finance committee, said when she first heard about the donation, she assumed it was a mistake.

“Every time I say it, I get goosebumps,” she said. “I cannot express my gratitude enough.”

Dolphins now are appearing by the hundreds in the Chesapeake Bay

A group of teenagers learning to sail on the Patuxent River this past summer spotted it in the distance: A dolphin’s fin bouncing above the water. They steered closer and were surrounded by friendly marine mammals.
“All of a sudden, there were like 50 of them around us,” said Patuxent High School student Carolyn Wilson, an instructor for the Southern Maryland Sailing Association’s summer camp. She pulled out her iPhone and snapped some pictures.
Those photos helped researchers confirm one of hundreds of dolphin sightings reported around the Chesapeake Bay last year. The effort to better track movement of dolphins through the bay and its tributaries began in June, and the response has been overwhelming, said Helen Bailey, a research professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
“We were only expecting maybe 25 to 30 [dolphin sightings] a year,” Bailey said. “We had over 900 reported last year, and we were able to verify nearly 450 of those.”
Scientists say dolphins used to visit the bay more frequently. Published reports of sightings date back into the 1800s. But as pollution degraded the Chesapeake’s water quality through the 20th century, they became more rare.
Now, researchers are exploring whether more dolphins are swimming up the bay, possibly invited by clearer waters, abundant submerged grasses and rebounding fisheries. Through a website they set up to collect sighting reports — and a smartphone app that will launch soon — the researchers are learning that the beloved creatures venture miles upstream in rivers such as the York and Potomac, and as far north as Annapolis and the Bay Bridge.
“It’s very likely they’re following fish into the bay. Hopefully, that’s a good sign,” Bailey said. “It doesn’t look like it’s just amusement from the coast into the bay.”
Bottlenose dolphins, popular for their perceived humanlike intelligence and personalities, are common throughout the world’s oceans and in many estuaries. An estimated 11,500 of them migrate along the Atlantic Coast from the Carolinas to Long Island. Other distinct populations migrate along the Southeast Coast and in Central and South Florida.
[A swim in the Potomac? The river’s remarkable recovery makes that a possibility, report says.]
As in the Chesapeake, there are populations of unknown size, maybe a few hundred dolphins, in such waterways as Biscayne Bay in Florida and Charleston Harbor in South Carolina.
Janet Mann, a professor of biology and psychology at Georgetown University, who collaborates with Bailey, said the dolphins are important to track because they serve as a visible indicator of ecological health.
Because they often come to the surface, unlike most other aquatic life, it’s easy to notice when they are present — or conspicuously absent. And, Mann said, any lesions or other signs of disease are also visible because, being at the top of the food chain, any toxins in the environment build up in their bodies.
Advocates for the environment can use excitement about dolphins to promote broader ecological health, Mann said.
“They’re charismatic animals, so they’re really good to target for public interest and protection of the animals,” she said. “If you are interested in protecting dolphins, you have to protect all the animals in the area they use.”
With that in mind, researchers launched a website to collect reports last year. allows users to report the date, time and location of a dolphin sighting, an estimate of the number of creatures spotted and a description of what they were doing. The website has 1,500 active users.
Introduced in the summer, when dolphins in the Chesapeake Bay were at their most plentiful, the site quickly became a hit.
“What became clear is, we were right in the thick of it,” Bailey said.
Hundreds of entries came in, reporting dolphins in groups of 10 or even a few dozen. But there were also reports of dolphin pods 100 strong. Eight people estimated that they saw swarms of more than 100 dolphins.
Then, defying the researchers’ expectations, sightings continued into the fall, in decent numbers into November. A few were sighted over the winter. And reports have picked up, even as the weather was slow to warm this spring.
One morning last month, someone spotted a few dolphins off Solomons Island in Calvert County, Md. An hour later, there was a report of five or 10 in Annapolis Harbor. And then there were dozens — maybe more than 100 — seen at the mouth of the Severn River nearby.
The scientists say it is hard to draw conclusions yet. They noted that the data is biased because more sightings occur in the places people gather most frequently for recreation or commerce.
Researchers are surveying in some parts of the bay using underwater microphones designed to detect the clicks and squeals dolphins use to communicate with one another.
But they said it’s safe to guess there are probably thousands of dolphins in the Chesapeake during the warmest months. Using photos and video of dolphin fins, Mann and colleagues have analyzed scarring and other markings to identify 500 individuals. Using that data, and perhaps sound records, researchers hope to get a better estimate of the population as well as a sense of how often individual dolphins are venturing into the bay and how long they stay.
Any input from the public helps, they said, as long as people are observing them responsibly. They ask people to watch from a safe distance and not to touch or feed the dolphins — or swim with them. They tell boaters to maintain their speed and direction if the curious creatures approach, as they often do.
The dolphins have built up a reputation among those who frequent the bay and its rivers. Pasadena waterman C.J. Canby said friends have told him about pods of as many as 50 dolphins swimming around the Bay Bridge or in the lower bay off Calvert County.
Canby was disappointed that, in 16 years of crabbing, he had never seen one himself — until July, when he was near the mouth of the Patapsco River and Bodkin Creek.
“It had to be at least six or eight of them. They went right past us as we were working,” he said. “To see them this far north is pretty crazy.”
Baltimore Sun

Cancer deaths are down overall, new report says

Good news — cancer deaths are down overall.

Cancer deaths dipped almost 2 percent a year between 1999 and 2015 among men, about 1.5 percent a year for women, according to a new report. Although cancer rates actually increased slightly between 2010 and 2014 for children — 1 percent a year — their death rate also dropped 1.5 percent between 2011 and 2015.

This joint report of the American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Cancer Institute and the North American Associate of Central Cancer Registries measured how well the medical “war on cancer” progresses.

ABC News
PHOTO: Cancer Info Graphic

These are significant declines, reflecting more accurate and successful cancer treatments, and better detection as well. Cancer detected at earlier stages has more treatment options and a better five-year survival the statistics show that this progress in reducing cancer deaths hasn’t occurred for each type of cancer. Death rates are down for lung and colorectal cancers in both men and women, for instance, but up for pancreatic and liver cancers for both genders. Death rates are down for breast and prostate cancer as well. Rates and trends by race and ethnic groups still differ.

As to how many cancers occur (rather than how well we survive them), the rate of cancer came down 2.2 percent a year for men between 2008 and 2014; it was stable for women.