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Bus Driver Careers, Jobs and Training Information

Bus Driver Career and Job Highlights

  • Opportunities tend to be widely available, especially for school bus drivers.
  • All bus drivers must possess a commercial driver’s license.
  • Bus drivers have varying work schedules, depending on the requirements of specific bus driving jobs.
  • Bus drivers must be able to manage, meet the needs of and communicate with large groups of diverse people. This requires effective customer service techniques.

Bus Driver Career Overview and Job Description

Bus drivers are responsible for the safe and convenient transportation of millions of Americans every day. Bus drivers play a fundamental role in supplying passengers with an alternative to travel by car and other transportation methods. Bus drivers provide a variety of services: intercity bus drivers provide transportation between areas within the country or a state; local-transit bus drivers transport people at the county and city level; motor coach drivers provide transportation for tours and charter excursions; and schoolbus drivers provide children with transportation to and from school and school-related activities.

Passengers are picked up and dropped off at bus stops and stations—as well as neighborhood schoolbus stops for students—according to exacting time schedules. Bus drivers must be extremely safety-conscious, particularly in abnormally heavy traffic. But even in light traffic, drivers must be careful to avoid missing passengers by arriving at stops ahead of schedule.
Intercity and Local-transit bus drivers are assigned a garage or terminal, to which they report regularly. At these locations, drivers prepare trip report forms and receive their necessary supply of tickets and transfers. Some transportation firms have maintenance departments, which monitor and maintain the good condition of the vehicles. In other firms, drivers precede each route by checking their vehicle’s brakes, tires, lights, oil, fuel, water supply and windshield wipers. A vehicle’s safety equipment, including first aid kids, fire extinguishers and emergency reflectors, is generally checked and verified by the driver.

In addition to operating their vehicle, bus drivers often perform other duties during their shift, such as collecting fares, answering customer questions regarding routes, schedules and transfer points, and occasionally announcing stops. An intercity bus driver’s route may involve one complete round-trip each day or a single one-way trip to a distant city. These drivers may make frequent stops at neighboring towns, or they may stop only at largely separated metropolitan areas. Local-transit drivers normally make frequent stops—often every few blocks—and generally travel through the same city and streets numerous times each day.

Local-transit bus drivers keep a record of each day’s trips, schedule delays and mechanical difficulties, which they submit as daily trip reports. Regulations established by the U.S. Department of Transportation must be followed by all state and national border-crossing intercity bus-drivers. Such regulations involve the completion of vehicle inspection reports, the recording of distances traveled, and the keeping of a time log that indicates what portion of each day’s time was spent driving, fulfilling other responsibilities and off-duty.

Sightseeing tours and charter trips generally employ Motorcoach Drivers for passenger transport. These drivers work closely with tour guides and clients to ensure that passengers have a comfortable and informative experience. Motorcoach drivers play a key role in the success of each trip, as they are responsible for following each tour’s established itinerary and keeping things on schedule. More than simply providing transportation, motorcoach drivers must often act as tour guides, safety guides and program directors. Many trips are more then one-day excursions, and extended tours may last more than a week. Motor coach drivers must adhere to the same regulations set forth by the U.S. Department of Transportation as apply to all bus drivers who cross state and national borders.

Schoolbus drivers normally follow a set daily route, by which they take kids to and from school each morning and afternoon. Schoolbus drivers also occasionally provide transportation for school sporting events and field trips. Many schoolbus drivers supplement their work as drivers with part-time positions within the educational system, working as mechanics, janitors, classroom assistants or in other capacities when not providing transportation services.

Bus drivers must pay careful attention to traffic and weather conditions so as to prevent accidents. They must also ensure passenger safety by avoiding sudden stops and turns. Schoolbus drivers must be especially cautious and alert as children enter and exit the bus. Drivers are responsible for preserving order on the bus and for enforcing school safety regulations, including permitting only authorized students to ride. They are also responsible for enforcing student conduct regulations as established by the school system.

Schoolbus drivers are not always required to report to a specific garage or terminal. Some drivers are given the option of parking their bus at home or at another convenient location. Instead of collecting fares, schoolbus drivers make weekly reports that detail the number of students transported, trips made, miles traveled, hours worked and fuel consumed during the week. Daily and weekly schedules are established by supervisors.

Bus Driver Training and Job Qualifications

State and Federal regulations govern bus driver qualifications and standards. Every driver must adhere to all Federal regulations and to any additional State requirements. A resident State-issued commercial driver’s license (CDL) is federally required of all commercial motor vehicle operators.

Qualification for a CDL requires a demonstration of safe bus driving ability, as well as the successful completion of a written exam that tests drivers’ knowledge of bus driving rules and regulations. All driving violations incurred by CDL holders are permanently recorded in a national databank. Drivers who have had a license revoked or suspended in one state may not be issued a commercial driver’s license by another state. Trainees who have not yet received a CDL must be accompanied by a driver who possesses a CDL. State motor vehicle departments provide specific information about how to obtain a commercial driver’s license.

Although many states only require bus-drivers to be 18 years of age or older, bus drivers involved in interstate commerce must adhere to the minimum qualifications established by the Department of Transportation. According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, drivers must be at least 21 years of age and be able to pass a physical examination every other year. Physical requirements for bus drivers include good hearing, a 70 degree field of vision in each eye and 20/40 corrected or uncorrected vision. Drivers must not be colorblind, and they must be able to detect—with or without a hearing aid—a forced whisper from a minimum distance of 5 feet. Drivers are also required to have normal use of their limbs, as well as a normal blood pressure. Drivers may only use controlled substances as prescribed by a licensed medical doctor. Individuals with insulin-controlled diabetes or epilepsy may not be employed as interstate bus drivers. Prior to employment, Federal regulations mandate that all drivers be tested for alcohol and drug use, and that on-duty drivers be periodically tested at random as well. Individuals who have been convicted of a crime involving drugs; driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs; hit-and-run driving resulting in injury or death; or any motor-vehicle related felony may not be bus drivers. All bus drivers must be sufficiently proficient in written and spoken English so as to be able to read road signs, give reports and communicate effectively with both the public and members of law enforcement. Drivers must also pass a written exam covering the U.S Department of Transportation’s Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

Employers often favor high school graduates and generally require applicants to pass an exam that tests their ability to understand and adhere to complicated bus schedules. A high percentage of public and intercity transport employers prefer applicants age 24 and older, and many companies require previous bus or truck driving experience. Some states also require that Schoolbus drivers pass a background check that looks for any history of mental problems or criminal behavior.

Courtesy is an important bus driver attribute, as drivers constantly interact with the public. Strong emotional stability and an even temperament are also important attributes for dealing with the stresses caused by difficult passengers and demanding traffic situations. Drivers must also be able to manage and communicate with large groups of people in a friendly, customer-serving manner.

The majority of local-transit systems and intercity bus companies provide new drivers with between 2 and 8 weeks of classroom and behind-the-wheel training. Classroom training generally involves instruction regarding safety regulations, safe driving practices, and regulations set forth by the company, state, municipality and U.S. Department of Transportation. Drivers also learn to perform such tasks as keeping records, determining fares, reading schedules and providing courteous customer service.

Like other bus drivers, schoolbus drivers must possess a commercial driver’s license issued by their state of residence. Many prospective schoolbus drivers are completely inexperienced with vehicles larger than standard automobiles. Before employment, schoolbus drivers receive between 1 and 4 weeks of behind-the-wheel training and classroom instruction, covering local and state regulations regarding schoolbus operation, as well as safe driving techniques, driver-student relations, first-aid, emergency evacuation procedures and special needs of handicapped and emotionally troubled pupils. An understanding of the school system’s regulations regarding bus driver and student conduct and discipline is also necessary for all schoolbus drivers.

Bus drivers practice driving on set courses as part of their training. Drivers practice baking up, driving in narrow lanes, performing turns and avoiding obstacles. After training on a driving course, drivers train first in light traffic, and later on city streets and congested highways. Drivers also improve their driving abilities and learn their routes by performing trial runs without passengers. Those employed by local-transit companies memorize and drive each route assigned to their garage. New drivers normally experience a “break-in” period, in which they are they are accompanied by an experienced driver who provides instruction and evaluates driver performance as the new driver follows regular, passenger-transporting routes.

New drivers for local transit and intercity transportation companies are normally placed on an “extra” list, which assigns them to irregular work opportunities, including charter runs, extra buses on regular routes and special runs, such as rush hour runs and transport to sporting events. New drivers also act as substitutes for sick or on-vacation regular drivers. New drivers are given regular routes based on seniority, but may have to work part-time for several years as “extras” before advancing.

Drivers who have seniority are generally freer to choose the preferable routes—those with lighter traffic, more convenient work hours, better pay and other benefits.

Promotion opportunities for bus drivers are by and large limited, but supervisory and dispatch positions are often available to experienced drivers. These positions involve such tasks as assigning buses to drivers, monitoring driver punctuality, rerouting buses to avoid hazards and dispatching necessary aid to breakdowns and accidents. Employees may become train operators or station attendants if they work for transit agencies that operate rail systems. Some drivers advance to managerial positions. Publicly-owned bus systems often base promotions on competitive civil service examination. Motorcoach drivers will occasionally purchase the necessary equipment and become open their own transportation firm.

Bus Driver Job and Employment Opportunities

Opportunities are widely available for prospective bus drivers. Job prospects are especially promising for those who are willing to work part-time or irregular hours, and for those who have a good driving record. Because schoolbus jobs tend to be part-time, have high turnover rates and few minimum qualifications, prospective shoolbus drivers should have little trouble obtaining employment, especially in areas of rapid suburban growth. Competition for employment is more characteristic of higher paying intercity and public transit bus driving jobs. Because employment opportunities for motorcoach drivers are extremely dependent on the tourist market, such prospects tend to fluctuate with the economy.

As the general and school-age populations of the United States continue to increase, the market for bus drivers is expected to keep pace with average employment growth through 2012. Due to the high turnover rate among bus divers, ample new job openings are available each year.

As elementary and secondary school enrollments continue to grow, an increase in schoolbus driver employment is also projected. The decentralization of the country’s population away from central cities and toward suburbia—where transportation by schoolbus is more common—ashould also increase the demand for schoolbus drivers.

Local-transit bus drivers will see employment growth as funding levels and passenger numbers rise. Fluctuations in public interest toward transportation tend to effect similar changes in funding levels. Positions with steady routes and regular hours tend to garner the most competition within this sphere of the bus driver market.

Job growth for intercity bus drivers is largely tempered by other competing modes of transportation, including automobiles, trains and airplanes. Accordingly, growth in intercity bus driver employment is most significantly affected by group charters to areas accessible only to buses. Buses are at an advantage to trains and airplanes in that they, like automobiles, offer a much broader spectrum of possible destinations. Buses also tend to be more financially economical than automobiles for long-distance group tours.

Economic recessions rarely cause lay-offs among full-time bus driver employment. But decreases in passengers may result in reduced hours for part-time intercity and local-transit drivers. Seasonal layoffs occur frequently. For instance, winter declines in regular schedule and charter business may result in layoffs among less-senior intercity bus drivers. School holidays, including summer vacation, also provide work stoppages for schoolbus drivers.

Historical Earnings Information

In 2002, intercity bus drivers earned a median hourly wage of $14.22. 50 percent made an hourly wage between $10.51 and $18.29; 10 percent made less than $8.37, while 10 percent made more than $22.51 per hour. The following chart indicates the 2002 median hourly compensations for intercity and transit bus drivers within the largest bus employing industries:

  • Local government – $16.95
  • Interurban and rural bus transportation – $15.15
  • Urban transit systems – $15.02
  • School and employee bus transportation – $11.29
  • Charter buses – $10.64

In 2002, schoolbus drivers earned a median hourly wage of $10.77. 25 percent made less than $7.73, and 25 percent made more than $13.53 per hour; 10 percent made less than $ 6.24, and 10 percent made more than $16.44 per hour. The following chart indicates the 2002 median hourly compensations for schoolbus drivers within the largest employing industries:

  • School and employee bus transportation – $11.44
  • Local government – $11.09
  • Elementary and secondary schools – $10.50
  • Other transit and ground passenger transportation – $9.79
  • Individual and family services – $8.27

Employee benefits for bus drivers vary significantly. Employers generally offer intercity and local-transit bus drivers a benefit package that includes paid life and health insurance, sick leave, vacation leave, and free bus transportation on the system’s regular routes.

Schoolbus drivers receive sick leave, but do not receive vacation leave since they do not normally work when school is on vacation. Many schoolbus drivers also receive coverage from pension plans, as well as health and life insurance agencies. Many local governments offer their employed local-transit and schoolbus drivers coverage from statewide public employee pension systems. Schoolbus drivers who work in other part-time positions within the school system during their off hours often receive greater benefits from the school system.

Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union include the majority of intercity bus drivers, as well as a large percentage of local-transit bus drivers. The Transport Workers Union of America draws its members from local-transit bus drivers in several large cities, including New York. Other bus driver unions include the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the United Transportation Union.