Bus drivers transport people between various places—including, work, school, and shopping centers—and across state and national borders. Some drive regular routes, and others transport passengers on chartered trips or sightseeing tours. They drive a range of vehicles, from 15-passenger buses to 60-foot articulated buses (with two connected sections) that can carry more than 100 passengers.

Duties

Bus drivers typically do the following:

  • Pick up and drop off passengers at designated locations
  • Follow a planned route according to a time schedule
  • Help disabled passengers get on and off the bus
  • Obey traffic laws and state and federal transit regulations
  • Follow procedures to ensure passenger safety
  • Keep passengers informed of possible delays
  • Perform basic maintenance (check the bus tires, lights, and oil)
  • Keep the bus clean and presentable to the public

The following are examples of types of bus drivers:

School bus drivers transport students to and from school and other activities. On school days, drivers pick up students in the morning and return them home in the afternoon. They also drive students to field trips, sporting events, and other activities. Between morning and afternoon trips, some drivers work at schools in other occupations, such as janitors, cafeteria workers, or mechanics. School bus drivers typically do the following:

  • Ensure the safety of children getting on and off the bus
  • Attend to the needs of children with disabilities
  • Keep order and safety on the school bus
  • Understand and enforce the school system’s rules of conduct
  • Report disciplinary problems to the school district or parents

Local transit bus drivers follow a daily schedule while transporting people on regular routes along city or suburban streets. They stop frequently, often every few blocks and when a passenger requests a stop. Local transit drivers typically do the following:

  • Collect bus fares or manage fare box transactions
  • Answer questions about schedules, routes, and transfer points
  • Report accidents and other traffic disruptions to a central dispatcher

Intercity bus drivers transport passengers between cities or towns, sometimes crossing state lines. They usually pick up and drop off passengers at bus stations or curbside locations in downtown urban areas. Intercity drivers typically do the following:

  • Ensure that all passengers have a valid ticket to ride the bus
  • Sell tickets to passengers when there are unsold seats available, if necessary
  • Keep track of when passengers get on or off the bus
  • Help passengers load and unload baggage

Charter bus drivers, sometimes called motorcoach drivers, transport passengers on chartered trips or sightseeing tours. Trip planners generally arrange their schedules and routes based on the convenience of the passengers, who are often on vacation. Motorcoach drivers are sometimes away for long periods because they usually stay with the passengers for the length of the trip. Motorcoach drivers typically do the following:

  • Regulate heating, air-conditioning, and lighting, for passenger comfort
  • Ensure that the trip stays on schedule
  • Help passengers load and unload baggage
  • Account for all passengers before leaving a location
  • Act as tour guides for passengers, if necessary

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Work Environment

Bus drivers, school or special client held about 497,500 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of bus drivers, school or special client were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; local 40%
School and employee bus transportation 30
Local government, excluding education and hospitals                                             11
Other transit and ground passenger transportation 7

Bus drivers, transit and intercity held about 183,800 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of bus drivers, transit and intercity were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals                                             45%
Urban transit systems 17
Charter bus industry 10
Interurban and rural bus transportation 7

Driving through heavy traffic or bad weather and dealing with unruly passengers can be stressful for bus drivers.

Injuries and Illnesses

Transit and intercity bus drivers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Most injuries to bus drivers are due to vehicle accidents.

Work Schedules

School bus drivers work only when school is in session. Some make multiple runs if schools in their district open and close at different times. Others make only two runs, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, so their work hours are limited.

Transit drivers may work weekends, late nights, and early mornings.

Motorcoach drivers travel with their passengers. The trip schedule dictates a driver’s hours. Motorcoach drivers may work all hours of the day, as well as weekends and holidays. Intercity bus drivers can spend some nights away from home because of long-distance routes. Other intercity bus drivers make a round trip and go home at the end of each shift.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) designates the hours-of-service regulations that all interstate bus drivers must follow. Bus drivers are allowed 10 hours of driving time and 15 hours of total on-duty time before they must rest for 8 consecutive hours. Weekly maximum restrictions also apply, but can vary with the type of schedule that employers utilize. For more information about weekly and daily hours of service regulations, visit the FMCSA website.

Education and Training

Bus drivers must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). This can sometimes be earned during on-the-job training. Bus drivers must possess a clean driving record and frequently may be required to pass a background check. They also must meet physical, hearing and vision requirements. In addition, bus drivers often need a high school diploma or the equivalent.

Education

Most employers prefer drivers to have a high school diploma or equivalent.

Training

Bus drivers typically go through 1 to 3 months of training, but those who already possess a CDL license may have a shorter training period. Part of the training is spent on a driving course, where drivers practice various maneuvers with a bus. They then begin to drive in light traffic and eventually make practice runs on the type of route that they expect to drive. New drivers make regularly scheduled trips with passengers and are accompanied by an experienced driver who gives helpful tips, answers questions, and evaluates the new driver's performance.

Some drivers’ training is also spent in the classroom. They learn their company’s rules and regulations, state and municipal traffic laws, and safe driving practices. Drivers also learn about schedules and bus routes, fares, and how to interact with passengers.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All bus drivers must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Some new bus drivers can earn their CDL during on-the-job training. The qualifications for getting one vary by state but generally include passing both knowledge and driving tests. States have the right not to issue a license to someone who has had a CDL suspended by another state.

Drivers can get endorsements for a CDL that reflect their ability to drive a special type of vehicle. All bus drivers must have a passenger (P) endorsement, and school bus drivers must also have a school bus (S) endorsement. Getting the P and S endorsements requires additional knowledge and driving tests administered by a certified examiner.

Many states require all bus drivers to be 18 years of age or older and those who drive across state lines to be at least 21 years old.

Federal regulations require interstate bus drivers to pass a physical exam every 2 years and to submit to random testing for drug or alcohol abuse while on duty. Most states impose similar regulations. Bus drivers can have their CDL suspended if they are convicted of a felony involving the use of a motor vehicle or of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Other actions also can result in a suspension after multiple violations. A list of violations is available from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Most bus drivers are required to undergo background checks before they are hired.

Personality and Interests

Bus drivers typically have an interest in the Building and Helping interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Helping interest which might fit with a career as a bus driver, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Bus drivers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Customer-service skills. Bus drivers regularly interact with passengers and must be courteous and helpful.

Hand-eye coordination. Driving a bus requires the controlled use of multiple limbs on the basis of what a person observes. Federal regulations require drivers to have normal use of their arms and legs.

Hearing ability. Bus drivers need good hearing. Federal regulations require the ability to hear a forced whisper in one ear at five feet (with or without the use of a hearing aid).

Patience. Because of possible traffic congestion and sometimes unruly passengers, bus drivers are put in stressful situations and must be able to continue to calmly operate their bus.

Physical health. Federal regulations do not allow people to become bus drivers if they have a medical condition that may interfere with their operation of a bus, such as high blood pressure or epilepsy. A full list of medical reasons that keep someone from becoming a licensed bus driver is available from the U.S Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Visual ability. Bus drivers must be able to pass vision tests. Federal regulations require at least 20/40 vision with a 70-degree field of vision in each eye and the ability to distinguish colors on a traffic light.

Pay

The median annual wage for bus drivers, school or special client was $32,420 in May 2018. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,000, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $49,430.

The median annual wage for bus drivers, transit and intercity was $42,080 in May 2018. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,550, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $69,070.

In May 2018, the median annual wages for bus drivers, school or special client in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals                                                       $35,080
School and employee bus transportation 34,850
Elementary and secondary schools; local 31,360
Other transit and ground passenger transportation 29,770

In May 2018, the median annual wages for bus drivers, transit and intercity in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals                                                      $50,570
Urban transit systems 39,770
Interurban and rural bus transportation 38,500
Charter bus industry 31,440

School bus drivers work only when school is in session. Some make multiple trips if schools in their district open and close at different times. Others make only two trips, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, so their work hours are limited.

Transit drivers may work weekends, late nights, and early mornings.

Motorcoach drivers travel with their passengers. The trip schedule dictates a driver’s hours. Motorcoach drivers may work all hours of the day, as well as weekends and holidays. Intercity bus drivers can spend some nights away from home because of long-distance routes. Other intercity bus drivers make a round trip and go home at the end of each shift.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of bus drivers is projected to grow 5 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Employment of school or special-client bus drivers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Growth will largely result from an increase in the number of school-age children. However, growth will most likely occur for contracting services that provide school bus transport as more school districts outsource their transportation needs. In addition, the demand for special-needs transportation will continue to increase because of the aging population.

Employment of transit and intercity drivers (including charter bus drivers) is projected to grow 6 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Some new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems are opening throughout the country, which should create some employment opportunities. In addition, intercity bus travel that picks up passengers from curbside locations in urban downtowns should continue to grow. This form of travel is expected to remain popular due to the cheap fares and passenger conveniences, such as Wi-Fi.

Job Prospects

Job opportunities for school bus drivers should be excellent as many drivers are expected to leave the occupation. Those willing to work part time or irregular shifts should have the best prospects.

Prospects for motorcoach and intercity drivers should also be very good as the industry struggles to attract and retain qualified drivers.

For More Information

For more information about school bus drivers, visit

National School Transportation Association

National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services

For more information about transit bus drivers, visit

American Public Transportation Association

For more information about motorcoach drivers, visit

United Motorcoach Association

For more information on federal regulations for commercial vehicle drivers, visit

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

 

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