Software

Why can't I: Get real-time bus information online?

You can get decent train and flight info on the Web, why not the humble bus? It would be great if you could schedule in time for that extra cup of tea before running for the RV1...

Every Brit loves to complain about the unreliability of train services, but you can cut down long waits by checking National Rail Enquiries' live departure boards. Equally, flights can be horribly late, which can be a pain if you've arranged to meet a friend off the plane and are stuck waiting at the airport for hours on end. You can, however, also avoid this by using an online flight tracker such as FBOWeb, although I've often found Ceefax to be more reliable at predicting arrival times.

How great would it be if you could do the same with buses though? Many people catch buses from home or work -- it would be brilliant if you could check online before you leave to see whether the bus is on time. Having caught a bus to and from school for seven years, as well as commuting to university lectures and various jobs, I'm sure I've wasted at least a couple of weeks of my life waiting at bus stops.

At the moment, online bus trackers are only available for a limited number of areas in the UK, and those that are available are often flaky and difficult to use. Brighton and Hove council has one of the most user-friendly online bus tracking systems (pictured) that I've seen -- you simply select the route number, stop and the direction you're travelling in and it will tell you when the next bus is due, letting you know whether to run out of the house or make a cup of tea before heading to the bus stop. It does seem prone to bugs though -- I got lots of 'page can't be displayed' errors when using it.

Many bus-tracking systems across the country can be accessed from the ACIS Web site, although not all the sites seem to be working at the moment. For the areas where information was available, such as Surrey, accessing the live bus times wasn't as easy as I would have liked -- to get at the information quickly you have to enter the 5- to 8-digit 'stop reference number' (something only hardcore bus spotters are likely to know), or you have to navigate through multiple windows. One bonus is the clickable map, which is useful if you're unfamiliar with the area and want to know what bus to catch and when. The site ran slowly on the zippy LAN Internet connection at work, so I dread to think how people could use it on a modem.

With the government constantly trying to get us out of our cars and onto public transport, hopefully someone up in the echelons of the civil service will put some money into reliable and quick online bus trackers. Until then I'll just have to keep biding my time at bus stops. -- Ingrid Marson