RTD to Test Electronic Locater System for Buses : Transit: Device would speed up dispatch of aid in emergencies, such as one where passenger was slain.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Less than a month after transit police could not find a bus on which a gun-packing deranged woman had fatally shot a fellow passenger, the Rapid Transit District decided Thursday to test an off-the-shelf electronic vehicle-locater system.

RTD General Manager Alan F. Pegg said the district may eventually buy this new $1.7-million hardware, made by International Teletrac Systems, to "complement" a custom-made, $15-million bus locater system that RTD cannot get to work.

The Teletrac system, designed to help find stolen autos, will be bolted onto 200 buses and 10 other district vehicles for 90 days to test its usefulness in helping the district monitor where its buses are so that it can speedily dispatch help in emergencies.

Three years ago, RTD ordered a different system to track about half of its 2,000-bus fleet, but Pegg said the builder has failed to meet its contract deadline and the $15-million system is not yet operational. RTD ordered that system--known as TRS, for Transit Radio System--despite warnings that a similar system installed in San Antonio was not working well.

In a written report, Pegg told the district board of directors that a new system is needed "to improve the response time to an emergency" and that Teletrac is the only system available.

In an interview after the board approved the Teletrac trial, Pegg said the two bus-tracking systems will "complement" each other. Teletrac will help in emergencies, he said, because it can tell RTD dispatchers at the push of a button where a bus is anywhere in Southern California. TRS, when it can be made to work, will continually track buses as long as they stay on their routes. He said TRS is more useful for managing regular bus operations.

Depending on tests, Pegg added, the RTD could wind up ordering both systems.

For its test, Teletrac will provide the hardware--bus-mounted transponders and office-based computers--for free. The district will spend $57,000 to install the equipment and pay for each electronic location query. The queries are billed in a way similar to cellular telephone calls.

If the RTD eventually decides to install the system on all 2,000 of its buses, Pegg estimated the hardware would cost about $1.7 million and monthly operating costs would run about $40,000.

By comparison, the TRS system will cost $15 million to equip 1,000 buses. Pegg said he did not know how much it would cost to install hardware on the other half of the fleet.

The district was embarrassed by its inability to locate the bus involved in the shooting in Beverly Hills last month. When the shooting started and the driver hit a silent alarm button--automatically warning dispatchers of an emergency but not reporting its location--dispatchers had to rely on the bus' schedule when they sought help from police.

The schedule indicated that the bus was in Westwood at the time; in fact, the late-running bus was miles away, in eastern Beverly Hills. Police did not reach the scene until a Beverly Hills resident summoned that city's police force.

At the time, an RTD driver told The Times, "If you hit the SAS (silent alarm system), you had better pray that you are on time, because if you are late they will never find you."

One man, Bernard Calonne, was killed by the woman, Esther Rachel Rogers. She was killed later by a Sheriff's Department special-tactics team. Calonne's parents have begun the process that eventually would let them sue the RTD for damages suffered because of the loss of their son.

Although Pegg spoke of "new technologies" when he announced the Teletrac test, a company spokeswoman said the RTD had talked to Teletrac three years ago. At the time, the 2,000-bus RTD fleet was too large for Teletrac to handle and the RTD agreed to buy the $15-million TRS system from General Railway Signal Corp. of New York.

That system, patterned after a balky network pioneered in San Antonio, initially was also supposed to tell RTD dispatchers where each bus was, who was driving, how many people were on board, how many passengers got on and off at each stop and how much in fares had been collected. Pegg said those costly features were pared from the system before the contract was signed.

Since its earlier discussion with the RTD, Teletrac has expanded its capacity and started a commercial service that offers to locate stolen or lost vehicles. The system already has been adapted by the Santa Monica Municipal Bus Line and by some county school buses. The larger Los Angeles Unified School District bus fleet is testing the system, said Teletrac Vice President Stacey Black.

Inglewood-based Teletrac serves only Southern California now, but Black said it is planning to expand to Chicago in July, Detroit in August and Dallas in September.

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