Transit Glossary: Bus Fanning How-To

How does it work?  What does it take?  How much time and effort does it require?  What are fans or enthusiasts talking about when they say certain things?  It all sounds like mumbo-jumbo…until someone tries to explain the method behind the madness…so to speak.  Well, here goes…

In a previous installment of this series, I talked about the ways in which fans fan, most of these things bus fans do more than others, and some collectively.  Here are some examples of each:

Visiting major transit centers

Transit Centers are specially built facilities where passengers can safely transfer between buses, wait for buses, connect with trains at nearby rail stations, and check bus schedule information.  Some transit centers are outdoors with canopies, bus shelters, benches, and schedule racks, while others are indoors with heat, air conditioning, shelter from the elements, and bright lighting.  New York City has a few transit centers, most of which are situated near subway stations or park-and-ride facilities.  Such examples include the Eltingville Transit Center in Staten Island and the 165th Street Bus Terminal in Jamaica, Queens.

The Eltingville Transit Center is at Arthur Kill Road and Richmond Avenue.  The S55, S56, S59, S74/84, S79 SBS, S89 LTD buses stop by, as well as the x1, x4, x5, x7, x8, x15, x17, x21, and x31 Express buses.  The local routes use mainly 1999 Orion V high-floor buses and 2008-2009 Orion VII hybrid low-floor buses; the express buses use Motor Coach Industries D4500 over-the-road coach buses, but some Prevost Car-built X3-45 coaches show up on occasionally.  The Prevost Car model is based out of the Yukon Bus Depot, not far from the transit center, thus out of the Express routes stopping at Eltingville, they generally only show up on all except for the x17 (weekdays only).  The S79 SBS, also based out of Yukon Depot, uses specially-wrapped Orion VII hybrid low-floors for Select Bus Service, while every other route uses the regular local buses.  With the variety of bus routes that serve this transit center, there is plenty of opportunity to catch many different types of buses going in and out, to grab pictures as they enter or exit the transit center, or to notate which buses were sighted at a particular time.

The 165th Street Bus Terminal is located at 165th Street and 89th Avenue.  There are a slew of bus routes between three bus companies, MTA New York City Transit, MTA Bus Company, and Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE), that operate buses in this facility.  NYC Transit operates the Q1, Q2, Q3, Q17, Q36, Q75, Q76, and Q77 lines; MTA Bus Company operates the Q6, Q8, Q9, and Q41.  NICE Bus, formerly MTA Long Island Bus, operates the N6, N22, and N24 as well as variants of these services.  There are many bus models that can show up at this terminal to the delight of many bus fans, including the once-ubiquitous NovaBUS RTS high-floor, the Orion V diesel and compressed natural gas (CNG) high-floor, Orion VII CNG and hybrid low-floor, and the NovaBUS LFS low-floor.  NICE bus has an all-CNG fleet, so any CNG buses here are in NICE bus colors.  All but the Q17 enter and exit the terminal to pick up passengers, all except for MTA Bus Company’s routes discharge just outside the terminal.  The buses sit in each lane side-by-side at the NICE and NYCT bus stops and have to back up in order to exit onto 89th Avenue; MTA Bus Company’s buses are angle-parked and have to back up in order to exit onto Merrick Blvd.  During rush hours, this place is a madhouse or a haven of activity to a bus nut, with opportunities to try and record what buses were on what lines with so many of them whizzing by.

Browsing transit agency and manufacturer websites

Most often, before a bus enthusiast decides to travel to a city with a major bus system or a city with multiple systems, fan will browse that agency’s website for schedule information, pictures of their fleet in action, suitable fares for the duration of their stay, and upcoming bus and/or train related projects that are slated to begin or are in the planning stages.  If I wanted to visit Quebec City for the first time, I would have to know that the transit system there, RTC (Réseau de Transport de la Capitale) has added in recent years what is called the Métrobus system, a network of four limited-stop bus routes that complement their parallel local bus lines and connect to all other RTC local and express buses.  I would also find handy their Ecolobus route for viewing the old city along a cute little battery-powered bus which can fit through its narrow roadways.  These are things that I would keep in mind when I decide to check out a system and pick good spots to get as much bus action as possible.

It’s also helpful to know who manufacturers the buses in a fan’s home transit system and neighboring systems as there are several companies equipped to build the city transit buses required for daily operations.  New York City’s buses are all built in the United States and Canada by mainly four manufacturers.  Most of our local buses are built by NovaBUS of Quebec and New Flyer of Manitoba, while our express buses are built by Motor Coach Industries of Illinois and Prevost Car of Quebec.  Orion Bus Industries of Ontario built all of our hybrid buses, but their parent company, Daimler Buses North America, discontinued the Orion brand and is focusing on Setra and Mercedes-Benz buses overseas and Thomas buses in the United States.

Select Bus Service

With the exception of the S79, all Select Bus Service routes use the NovaBUS LFSA (Low-Floor Series Articulated) model shown here.

S79 Select Bus Service

The S79 is the only Select Bus Service route to use the Orion VII hybrid-electric low-floor bus shown here.









There are other manufacturers building buses out there, but they are mainly building buses for other uses or in other cities.  While New York City Transit does not purchase made-in-America Gillig-built transit buses, many other cities, small and medium-sized, do give them their business.  Some of their many customers include the Kansas City Area Transit Authority, DART First State, LYNX Orlando, and the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PA Transit) of Pittsburgh.  The only Gillig products in and around the New York Area are the airport rental car properties such as Avis and Hertz, the double-decker sightseeing companies (though they are converted transit buses from the Gillig Corporation), Transport of Rockland, and Suffolk Transit (not the entire fleet).

Not everyone orders their buses the same way, as different cities have different features that are needed for their operations as opposed to other cities who need more generic industry-wide features.  SEPTA in Philadelphia specifies sealed windows for all of their buses, so that passengers cannot be tempted to open the window and stick their heads and arms out, all while maintaining full use of the air conditioning systems in the summer time.  Washington, DC wants frameless windows on their buses to give a sportier look to their buses, while New York City Transit keeps it conservative financially and for ease of maintenance.  Most articulated buses have three doors on the right side, while some like Chicago’s CTA and Seattle’s King County Metro have two doors (except for RapidRide which uses three-door buses).  San Bernadino Omnitrans’ sbX, Eugene’s EmX, and Cleveland’s HealthLine use five-door articulated buses, three doors on the right side and two doors on the left side. This is to allow the buses to pull up to left-side bus stops much like a train.

All of these things are going through a busfan’s mind, keeping cognizant of what’s going on in the transit universe.  It allows the fan to step out of his/her comfort zone and explore other environments, whether to see how they are similar or to show how different they are.  I use agency websites to learn about new bus orders, new services that may use these new buses, and how the service will benefit its riders, whether greatly or just enough.  It allows me to compare how the MTA does business, how other cities cope with lack of funding, and dealing with choice riders who would otherwise keep driving if there is no other suitable alternative.

Taking photos, videos, sound recordings, etc. at key locations

Pictures are said to be worth a thousand words.  With that said, photos of transit vehicles can say a lot about what was happening at the time that a vehicle was in service for a transit system.  Depending on how the photographer captures the moment, someone can look at a picture and say whether the scene has changed behind the bus or how the scene has changed since new buses have been ordered.  Sometimes, a bus photograph can capture the mood of the photographer at the time it was shot; maybe the person behind the camera was feeling down because his living situation isn’t the greatest, or maybe the photographer was in a very happy mood because he just got his Commercial Driver’s License to finally drive buses for a living.  At times, a picture can be taken to record an event, such as a bus not normally found on a particular line or the return of a bus from the paint shop with no advertising on it.

Videos are an ever-popular way to show an event or events.  Fanning is no different.  Fanning can be done at key locations, or it can be done in obscure spots along popular bus routes, as long as there is a special event going on.  This could be a brand new bus on the line, a new route that just started, a new paint scheme to give a transit agency a sportier look, a bus model that a transit agency has never operated before, or the sounds of a particular engine in a bus.  Many videos on YouTube or Facebook show buses in usual habitats but with subtle differences such as a destination sign changed to another route, a destination sign not working, a particular body style not seen anywhere else, a particular operator’s driving style, and even buses that haven’t hit the streets yet and still have some protective covering attached.  Most of this footage was obtained with permission or was shot while the bus is in motion on a public street.  Every so often, you have trespassers, but for the most part, most content was obtained legally.

If you were born before the 1990s, most buses had two-stroke Detroit Diesel-built engines, whether 6-cylinder or 8-cylinder.  General Motors and the Flxible corporation were dominant in the transit bus market, while Motor Coach Industries, General Motors, Flxible, and Prevost in Canada were the main game in town for charter buses.  After the 1990s, Detroit Diesel and current engine frontrunner Cummins have provided 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder four-stroke engines for emissions control and fuel economy.  Nowadays, Cummins is the only game in town for new buses, and Detroit Diesel is no longer strong in the game.  With all of these engines and all of these manufacturers building their buses with different parts and different designs, no two buses sounded exactly the same.  General Motors-built buses generally sounded a bit more elegant, while Flxible-built buses have more of a tough sound.  Buses built for commuter bus routes had mainly 8-cylinder engines for operating on highways at speed, while those built for transit bus routes had mainly 6-cylinder engines for constant stop-and-go operation.  Nevertheless, one could differentiate between a New York City Transit General Motors “New Look” from a Connecticut Transit model.  The transmission in the bus, mostly built by Allison, a division of General Motors, some built by ZF or Voith from Europe, can make a world of a difference as well, even the amount of gears the transmission has.  A two-speed Allison transmission with overdrive makes the engine sound different than a 6-speed Voith transmission with overdrive.  There’s so many combinations out there, probably too many to name in this post, but it all makes fanning more pleasurable, knowing that they all sound and perform differently.

To illustrate, here are three examples of Flxible Metro series buses with Detroit Diesel Series 50 engines, but three different transmissions:

West Palm Beach w/ Allison Transmission

Chicago w/ ZF Transmission

Washington, DC w/ Voith Transmission

No, these aren’t 1960s or 1970s buses, but the start contrast in sounds is worth demonstrating.  Stay tuned, as I shall talk about fanning a little bit more, even exploring the rail side of the hobby.

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