Nature of the Work
Busdrivers provide transportation for millions of Americans every day. Intercity busdrivers transport people between regions of a State or of the country; local transit busdrivers, within a metropolitan area; and school busdrivers, to and from schools. They follow time schedules and routes over highways and city and suburban streets to provide passengers with an alternative to the automobile and other forms of transportation.
Busdrivers report to their assigned terminal or garage, where they receive tickets and transfers and prepare trip report forms. Drivers may check their vehicle's tires, brakes, windshield wipers, lights, oil, fuel, water, and safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers, first aid kits, and emergency reflectors.
Drivers pick up and discharge passengers at bus stops or stations, or in the case of students, at corners or in front of houses. Intercity and local transit busdrivers collect fares, answer questions about schedules, routes, and transfer points, and sometimes announce stops.
Busdriver days are run by the clock, as they must adhere to schedules. Drivers must try to keep up when traffic is heavier than normal, yet operate safety. On the other hand, they cannot let light traffic put them ahead of schedule so that they miss passengers.
Busdrivers must be alert to prevent accidents, especially in heavy traffic or in bad weather and to avoid sudden stops or swerves which jar passengers. School busdrivers must exercise particular caution when children are getting on or off.
Bus routes vary. Local transit busdrivers may make several trips each day over the same city and suburban streets, stopping as frequently as every few blocks. School busdrivers also drive the same routes each day, stopping frequently to pick up pupils in the morning and return them to their homes in the afternoon. School busdrivers may also transport students and teachers on field trips or to sporting events. Intercity busdrivers may make only a single one-way trip to a distant city or a round trip each day, stopping at towns just a few miles apart or only at large cities hundreds of miles apart. Drivers who operate chartered buses pick up groups, take then to their destination, and generally remain with them until they return. Trips frequently last more than 1 day.
Busdrivers submit daily trip reports with a record of tickets and fares received, trips made, and significant delays in schedule, and report mechanical problems. They also fill out accident reports, when necessary. Intercity drivers record distances traveled and the periods of time they spend driving, performing other duties, and off duty, as required by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Driving a bus through heavy traffic while dealing with passengers is not physically strenuous, but it can be stressful and fatiguing. On the other hand, many drivers enjoy the opportunity to work without direct supervision, with full responsibility for the bus and passengers. Some also like meeting the public.
Intercity and transit busdrivers may work nights and weekends. Some drivers work part-time shifts. Some must also work when called and must report on short notice. Intercity busdrivers may drive more than 40 hours a week.
School busdrivers work only when school is in session. Most work 20 hours a week or fewer, driving one or two routes in the morning and afternoon. Drivers taking field or athletic trips or who also have midday kindergarten routes may work more hours a week.
Regular local transit busdrivers usually have a 5-day workweek: Saturdays and Sundays are considered regular workdays. Some drivers work evenings and after midnight. To accommodate commuters, many work "split shifts," for example 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3p.m. to 7 p.m. shifts, with time off in between.
Busdrivers held about 516,000 jobs in 1990. Most worked part time. About 7 out of 10 drivers worked for school systems or companies that provide school bus services under contract.
Most of the remainder worked for private and local government transit systems; some worked for intercity and charter buslines.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Busdriver qualifications are established by State and Federal regulations. Most States require that drivers have a commercial driver's license or a special school bus license. In addition, intercity busdrivers must meet U.S. Department of Transportation qualifications or those of a State agency, if the driver works only within one State.
School busdrivers must be at least 18 years old in most States, 16 in a few. Local transit and intercity busdriver must be at least 21 years old. Many intercity bus companies prefer applicants who are at least 24 years of age; some require several years of bus or truck driving experience.
Drivers should be in good health and have a good driving record. They need at least 20/40 vision with or without glasses, good hearing, and normal use of their arms and legs. Many employers prefer high school graduates and require a physical examination and a written test of ability to follow complex bus schedules. In addition, intercity busdrivers must pass written examinations on Department of Transportation and State motor vehicle regulations, as well as a driving test in the type of bus they will operate.
Since busdrivers deal with passengers, they must be courteous. They need an even temperament and emotional stability because driving in heavy, fast-moving, or stop-and-go traffic and dealing with passengers can be stressful. Most intercity bus companies and local transit systems give driver trainees 2 to 8 weeks of classroom and "behind-the-wheel" instruction. In the classroom, trainees learn U.S. Department of Transportation and company work rules, safety regulations, State and municipal driving regulations, and safe driving practices. They also learn to read schedules, determine fares, keep records, and deal courteously with passengers.
Many persons who enter school busdriving have never driven any vehicle larger than an automobile. They receive up to 1 week of driving instruction plus classroom training on State and local laws, regulations, and policies of operating school buses; safe driving practices; driver-pupil relations; first aid; and fire emergency procedures. School busdrivers must pass driving and written tests and --in some States-- a background investigation to uncover a criminal record or a history of mental problems.
During training, busdrivers learn on set courses. They practice turns and zigzag maneuvers, back up, and drive in narrow lanes. Then they drive in light traffic and, eventually, on congested highways and city streets. They also make trial runs, without passengers, to improve their driving skills and learn the routes.
Local transit trainees memorize and drive each of the runs operating out of their assigned garage. New drivers begin with a "break-in" period. They make regularly scheduled trips with passengers, accompanied by an experienced driver who gives helpful tips, answer questions, and evaluates the new driver's performance.
New intercity and local transit drivers usually are placed on an "extra" list to substitute for regular drivers who are ill or on vacation, drive charter runs or extra and special runs (for example, during morning and evening rush hours and to sports events). New Drivers remain on the extra list, and may work only part time, perhaps for several years, until they have enough seniority to get a regular run.
Senior drivers can choose runs they prefer, such as those with more work hours, lighter traffic, weekends off, or, in the case of intercity busdrivers, higher earnings or fewer workdays per week.
Opportunities for promotion generally are limited. However, experienced drivers may become supervisors or dispatchers, who assign buses to drivers, check whether drivers are on schedule, reroute buses to avoid blocked streets or other problems, and dispatch extra vehicles and service crews to scenes of accidents and breakdowns. In transit agencies with rail systems, drivers may become train operators or station attendants. A few drivers become managers. Promotion in publicly owned bus systems is often by competitive civil service examination.
Employment of busdrivers is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2000. Employment of local and intercity drivers will grow as employers substitute part-time drivers for full timers; bus ridership, itself, is not expected to grow. Employment of school busdrivers is expected to grow as a result of growth in elementary and secondary school enrollments.
Employment of local transit and intercity drivers will grow as bus ridership increases and as population and labor force grow and incomes rise, but most growth will probably be in more expensive air and automobile transportation rather than in bus travel. Some growth of ridership is expected, however, in rapidly growing Sunbelt States. Opportunities for busdriver jobs should generally be good for persons with good driving records who are able to qualify for a Commercial Driver's License. The number of busdrivers will grow as competition forces employers to replace full-time drivers with part timers. Part timers can often be used more efficiently and may also be paid less per hour, and so it is likely that part-time employment will grow faster than full-time employment.
Due to the relatively high wages of local and intercity busdrivers, competition for these jobs is expected to be keen. School busdriving jobs should be easier to get, since earnings are lower and turnover is higher.
Full-time transit busdrivers are rarely laid off during recessions. However, part-time drivers may be if bus ridership decreases, since fewer extra buses would be needed during rush hours. Seasonal layoffs are common. Many intercity busdrivers with little seniority, for example, are furloughed during the winter when regular schedule and charter career falls off; school busdrivers do not work during the summer or school holidays.
Median weekly earnings of busdrivers who worked full time were about $375 in 1990. The middle 50 percent earned between about $270 and $530 a week. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $215 a week, while the highest tenth earned more than $620 a week.
According to the American Public Transit Association, local transit busdrivers in areas with more than 1 million inhabitants had an average top rate of $13.85 an hour in 1991; in areas with fewer than 100,000 inhabitants, drivers had an average top rate of $9.40 an hour. The average starting rate in most cities was 75 percent of the top rate. Generally, drivers could reach the top rate in 3 or 4 years.
Earnings of intercity busdrivers depends primarily on the number of miles they drive. In 1991, beginning intercity drivers worked about 6 months out of the year and earned about $20,800 while many senior drivers who worked year round earned more than $41,600.
According to a survey by the Educational Research Service, the average rate for school busdrivers employed by public school systems was $9.13 an hour during the 1989- 90 school year, with most earning between $8.05 and $10.18 an hour.
Most intercity and many local transit busdrivers are members of the Amalgamated Transit Union. Local transit busdrivers in New York and several other large cities belong to the Transport Workers Union of America. Some drivers belong to the United Transportation Union and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America.
Other workers who drive vehicles on highways and city streets are taxidrivers, truckdrivers, and chauffeurs.
Sources of Additional Information
For further information on employment opportunities, contact local transit systems, intercity buslines, school systems, or the local offices of the State employment service.
General information on local transit busdriving is available from:
American Public Transit Association 1225 Connecticut Ave. NW., Suite 200, Washington, D.C. 20036.