Transit Glossary: “Fanning”

Houston TX

Getting the action in Houston, TX. (c) 2014 WordPress user “chickenscratchh”

What is fanning?

To be a fan is to take interest in public transportation, whether it’s bus transit, rail transit, marine transport, or aviation.  To be an avid fan or a dedicated fan is to understand the ins and outs of the transportation industry, from the way systems are formed or managed to the vehicles that carry the riding public.  Some fans simply do a lot of research online and attend many events dealing with transit, while others work in the industry in some capacity as either operators, dispatchers, cleaners, or management.  The bottom line is, we love to work or study this industry, which is a demanding but dynamic industry.  There are some people who take a fondness to one mode of transportation over another, but most fans like multiple modes of transportation.  Some fans even love automotive transportation and work in the auto industry while still taking interest in public modes of transportation.

What types of fans are out there?

Let’s break it down:

  1. Busfans.  There are those that love buses, primarily transit buses (such as MTA New York City Transit, SEPTA, and WMATA Metrobus) and motorcoach buses (such as Greyhound, Academy Tours, and Coach USA/Coach Canada).  Some love both, like myself, while others lean more towards one or the other.  There are some that like school buses (such as Laidlaw, Consolidated Bus Transit, and First Student) as well, but they are practically outnumbered by those who are just transit and/or coach fans.  Most busfans gather at major transit centers, bus stations, bus roadeos, and special bus-related rallies or shows to talk about, what else, buses.  Conversations can range from bus models to memorabilia, photos taken, sound effects, bus sightings, bus garage transfers, buses sold or leased to other companies, bus route changes, and operations planning.  In the old days before the Internet, most bus fans (or “enthusiasts”) met through trade shows or major events.  In the modern era, most fans meet on Facebook or bus-related forums.
  2. Railfans.  There are also those that love trains, nearly everything about transit, from their horns and whistles to the clicking and clacking on the rails to the sounds of diesel engines and electric traction.  Most railfans like anything trains, though there are some who have more of an interest in passenger trains than freight trains, and vice versa.  Freight trains are in a category by itself, but passenger trains have multiple categorizations, such as light rail, heavy rail, and metro/subway.  Before the internet, most railfans meet through trade shows, hobby shops, railroad gatherings, and railroad clubs (real railroads and model railroads are included).  Nowadays, fan meet through hobby websites, social networking, and rail-related forums.
  3. Aviation fans.  Who doesn’t love planes?  Those gigantic birds in the sky that take you above the clouds to your destination at 400 miles per hour?  So many airplanes and so many airlines make aviation fanning such a popular interest.  Aviation fans can usually be found at strategic plane-watching locations, usually located at the ends of runways, landing lights locations, and otherwise ordinary spots among civilization.  They have an understanding of what certain codes mean to air traffic control, how runways are identified, numerous airport codes, the hub airports of certain airlines, and what types of aircraft many airlines use.  Anyone can identify certain major airlines by their tail and fuselage color scheme, but only aviation fans can distinguish certain types of aircraft and even the distinctions within an aircraft type.  They can even tell which airport the plane is flying to based on the plane’s trajectory over certain areas of a city.  They can tell what engine the aircraft is equipped with or who the aircraft originally belonged to based on the tail number.  There are aviation forums and Facebook groups devoted to this sector of the industry, most of which are frequented by airline employees, air traffic controllers, and engineers.
  4. Marine fans.  This isn’t a really popular fan group, but nevertheless there are ferry fans and boat fans who take to the waters to ride and understand the passenger boat industry.  This type of fan usually hangs around ferry terminals such as South Ferry in New York or Fauntleroy Terminal in Seattle waiting to see which class of boat will take them to their destination.  They are usually in the know of the shipbuilders that supply the many ferry boats out there, usually by way of deckhands and captains or even relatives of ship crewmembers.  Some just sit at the terminals and watch as commuters and vehicles whisk them across the water in all different directions.

So why fanning?

If only I could answer that question.  My reasoning is that it’s an interesting hobby, much like gaming, racing, fishing, or sports.  The difference is that transportation is something that many take for granted and something that most people would feel is more of a necessity as opposed to a luxury.  Most people take public transportation because they need to get somewhere without a car, but driving is for those who have the option to do so.  This is less the case in suburban or rural areas where there is little to no public transit, but in urban areas, people who drive are more often driving because they don’t have to take public transit.  Everyone loves planes and trains, but buses and ferries are less commonly celebrated.  Even though people see trains and planes as something they need to take to get where they are going, most people are more comfortable with the speed and reliability of a plane or a train than with buses and ferries.  While I do realize I am generalizing these statements, they do have some truth if you look at ridership in train systems versus bus systems and whether people take planes cross-country as opposed to trains.

 So what do I prefer to “fan” when I’m not working?

I personally like buses, trains, and planes.  I work in the rail industry, so I can “fan” while I work, but during my spare time, I do lots of rail, bus, and airplane watching, with a little ferry watching if I see something interesting.

When it comes to railfanning, I prefer passenger trains over freight, but I do take some interest in freight due to the many liveries and engines out there, some of which are used in passenger train service.  Some rail lines use freight tracks to run passenger service, while others just run alongside freight tracks.

When it comes to busfanning, I prefer transit over charter buses and charter over school buses.  I don’t really get too much into school buses other than what I used to ride in grade school or certain bus manufacturers that also make school buses such as Blue Bird and Thomas/Freightliner (part of Daimler Buses North America).

When it comes to planes, I am more of a fan of passenger airlines and commercial jets more so than private planes and charter airlines.  I am more familiar with American and Canadian carriers than international carriers, but I am only familiar with those international airlines that fly large jets into the United States and Canada.  Such airlines include British Airways, Lufthansa, and ANA All Nippon Airways.

When it comes to boatfanning, I am more into passenger ferries large and small such as New York Waterway, the Staten Island Ferry, and BC Ferries.  I do like some tourist ferries such as Circle Line and New York Water Taxi, but I don’t really get too deep into who builds what or how they work.  I do follow ferry routes as they are considered commuter transit as well.

So how does someone “fan”?

There are many ways that we “fan” and no one person does it quite the same way.  There are copycats and followers to older fans, but everyone still has their own style.  What unites us together is the interests and the gatherings we go to.  Some are planned events by hobbyist groups, some are done by different transit companies, and others are done out of the pure blue.  Here are many of the ways people “fan” in the field:

  • Visiting major transit centers, train stations, airport terminals, and ferry terminals
  • Photographing, recording, and taking videos at key locations
  • Understanding transit maps, schedules, and fleet rosters
  • Drawing, painting, and modeling transit vehicles
  • Selling pictures, videos, slides, and replica models
  • Observing vehicles and jotting down/comparing notes about who, what, when, where, why, and how
  • Browsing transit agency and manufacturer websites
  • Attending trade shows and gatherings
  • Owning and/or maintaining vintage vehicles
  • Working in the industry as an operator, mechanic, assistant, cleaner, etc.

So where have I fanned?

Where haven’t I fanned?  Practically everywhere I go I devote even a little bit of time to fan.  I do it every day at work.  I even do some with family and friends who understand why I do what I do.  Fanning doesn’t necessarily mean shutting myself out from the rest of the world, it just means I take an interest and act on it whenever I can, but still keep myself tuned to the real world and even transportation from a real world perspective.


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