Gulf war satellites track the No 73 bus

A space age solution is at hand for passengers on London buses who complain that they 'wait half an hour then three come at once.

American satellites used for tracking attack aircraft and monitoring Allied forces during the Gulf War are monitoring the progress of No 73 buses along their Victoria to Stoke Newington route in a trial to eliminate bunching.

Leaside Buses are testing a Global Positioning System (GPS) which relies on US military satellites orbiting the earth at a height of 12,500 miles.

They beam down a high frequency signal to a receiver fitted on to the bus.

A computer pinpoints the location of the vehicle by calculating longitude and latitude co-ordinates and that information is then transmitted directly to the bus control room where staff can track it on an electric screen. The whole procedure takes about a second.

The system, which would cost pounds 350,000 to pounds 400,000 for a fleet of 160 buses, is already used by emergency service vehicles and other public transport systems around Britain, but Leaside is the first London bus company to carry out trials.

According to Bob Pennyfather, Leasides' operation planning manager, the No 73 tests have yielded 'extremely successful results' and the subsidiary is awaiting a decision on bus privatisation and further trials before it commits itself to the satellite link.

'The tests showed we were able to track our buses very accurately, to between 30 and 100 metres,' Mr Pennyfather said.

'If we do decide to have the system it will help us co-ordinate our buses when we are faced with terrorist attacks, burst water mains and all the other problems that are a part of life in London.' Keith Weightman, the customer services manager, said something had to be done to prevent buses turning up in convoys.

'By the time we have found out that there's a problem holding up the traffic and causing the buses to bunch, it's too late. They have passed the point of no return.

'With this system we can ask them to transfer their passengers to the bus behind or in front and then re-route the empty buses to avoid the congestion.'

Buses on the No 73 route could go out of service, driven through back streets to skirt a hold-up and rejoin the route further on, or switch direction and go back to a terminus.

'Given the increasing number of roadworks and marches in London these days, something has to be done to help the buses get through,' he added.

At present controllers radio drivers to ask where they are and how bad traffic is, but that is considered time-No 73 drivers know little about the satellites, however, and are not convinced the link will ease their jobs.

Grabbing a break between shifts at Victoria station, - he was unwilling to disclose his surname - said it would put more pressure on drivers who are already battling against traffic jams.

'It's a way for them to spy on us, keep checks on where we are. It shows a lack of trust.

'We bunch up all the but it all depends on the traffic. This last winter was so bad that at one point I remember a line of about ten of us down near King's Cross sitting there for hours.

'But at the moment we are much more worried about privatisation than about some bloody satellite in space.'

(Photograph omitted)