Opportunities should be good, particularly for school bus
driver jobs; applicants for higher paying public transit bus
driver positions may encounter competition.
State and Federal governments establish bus driver qualifications
and standards, which include a commercial driver’s license.
Work schedules vary considerably among various types of bus
Bus drivers must possess strong customer service skills, including
communication skills and the ability to manage large groups
of people with varying needs.
Nature of the Work
Bus drivers provide transportation for millions of people
every year, from commuters to school children to vacationers.
There are two major kinds of bus drivers: Transit and Intercity
bus drivers, who transport people between regions of a
State or of the country, along routes run within a metropolitan
area or county, or on chartered excursions and tours; and
school bus drivers, who take children to and from schools
and related events.
Bus drivers pick up and drop off passengers at bus stops,
stations, or—in the case of students—at regularly scheduled
neighborhood locations, all according to strict time schedules.
Drivers must operate vehicles safely, especially in heavy
traffic. They cannot let light traffic put them ahead of schedule
so that they miss passengers. Bus drivers drive a range of
vehicles from 15-passenger buses to 60-foot articulated buses
that can carry more than 100 passengers.
Local-transit and intercity bus drivers report
to their assigned terminal or garage, where they stock up
on tickets or transfers and prepare trip report forms. In
some transportation firms, maintenance departments are responsible
for keeping vehicles in good condition; in others, drivers
may be expected to check their vehicle’s tires, brakes, windshield
wipers, lights, oil, fuel, and water supply before beginning
their routes. Drivers usually verify that the bus has safety
equipment, such as fire extinguishers, first aid kits, and
During the course of their shift, local-transit and intercity
bus drivers collect fares; answer questions about schedules,
routes, and transfer points; and sometimes announce stops.
Intercity bus drivers may make only a single one-way trip
to a distant city or a round trip each day. They may stop
at towns just a few miles apart or only at large cities hundreds
of miles apart. Local-transit bus drivers may make several
trips each day over the same city and suburban streets, stopping
as frequently as every few blocks.
Local-transit bus drivers submit daily trip reports with
a record of trips, significant schedule delays, and mechanical
problems. Intercity drivers who drive across State or national
boundaries must comply with U.S. Department of Transportation
regulations. These include completing vehicle inspection reports
and recording distances traveled and the periods they spend
driving, performing other duties, and off duty.
Some intercity drivers operate motor coaches which transport
passengers on chartered trips and sightseeing tours. Drivers
routinely interact with customers and tour guides to make
the trip as comfortable and informative as possible. They
are directly responsible for keeping to strict schedules,
adhering to the guidelines of the tour’s itinerary, and ensuring
the overall success of the trip. These drivers act as customer
service representative, tour guide, program director, and
safety guide. Trips frequently last more than a day. The driver
may be away for more than a week if assigned to an extended
tour. As with all commercial drivers who drive across State
or national boundaries, motor coach drivers must comply with
U.S. Department of Transportation and State regulations.
School bus drivers usually drive the same routes each
day, stopping to pick up pupils in the morning and return
them to their homes in the afternoon. Some school bus drivers
also transport students and teachers on field trips or to
sporting events. In addition to driving, some school bus drivers
work part time in the school system as janitors, mechanics,
or classroom assistants when not driving buses.
Bus drivers must be alert to prevent accidents, especially
in heavy traffic or in bad weather, and to avoid sudden stops
or swerves that jar passengers. School bus drivers must exercise
particular caution when children are getting on or off the
bus. They must maintain order on their bus and enforce school
safety standards by allowing only students to board. In addition,
they must know and enforce the school system’s rules regarding
School bus drivers do not always have to report to an assigned
terminal or garage. In some cases, they have the choice of
taking their bus home or parking it in a more convenient area.
School bus drivers do not collect fares. Instead, they prepare
weekly reports on the number of students, trips or “runs,”
work hours, miles, and fuel consumption. Their supervisors
set time schedules and routes for the day or week.
Driving a bus through heavy traffic while dealing with passengers
is more stressful and fatiguing than physically strenuous.
Many drivers enjoy the opportunity to work without direct
supervision, with full responsibility for their bus and passengers.
To improve working conditions and retain drivers, many buslines
provide ergonomically designed seats and controls for drivers.
Many bus companies use Global Positioning Systems to help
dispatchers manage their bus fleets and help drivers navigate.
Intercity bus drivers may work nights, weekends, and holidays
and often spend nights away from home, during which they stay
in hotels at company expense. Senior drivers with regular
routes have regular weekly work schedules, but others do not
have regular schedules and must be prepared to report for
work on short notice. They report for work only when called
for a charter assignment or to drive extra buses on a regular
route. Intercity bus travel and charter work tend to be seasonal.
From May through August, drivers may work the maximum number
of hours per week that regulations allow. During winter, junior
drivers may work infrequently, except for busy holiday travel
periods, and may be furloughed at times.
School bus drivers work only when school is in session. Many
work 20 hours a week or less, 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. As more students with a variety of physical
and behavioral disabilities assimilate into mainstream schools,
school bus drivers must learn how to accommodate their special
Regular local-transit bus drivers 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
3 p.m. to 7 p.m., with time off in between.
Intercity bus drivers operating tour and charter buses may
work any day and all hours of the day, including weekends
and holidays. Their hours are dictated by the destinations,
schedules, and itineraries of chartered tours. Like all commercial
drivers, their weekly hours must be consistent with the Department
of Transportation’s rules and regulations concerning hours
of service. For example, drivers may drive for 10 hours and
work for up to 15 hours—including driving and nondriving duties—before
having 8 hours off duty. Drivers may not drive after having
worked for 60 hours in the past 7 days or 70 hours in the
past 8 days. Most drivers are required to document their time
in a logbook.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Many employers prefer high school graduates and require a
written test of ability to follow complex bus schedules. Many
intercity and public transit bus companies prefer applicants
who are at least 24 years of age; some require several years
of experience driving a bus or truck. In some States, school
bus drivers must pass a background investigation to uncover
any criminal record or history of mental problems.
Bus driver qualifications and standards are established by
State and Federal regulations. All drivers must comply with
Federal regulations and with any State regulations that exceed
Federal requirements. Federal regulations require drivers
who operate commercial motor vehicles in excess of 26,000
pounds gross vehicle weight rating or designed to carry 16
or more persons, including the driver, to hold a commercial
driver’s license (CDL) with the appropriate endorsements from
the State in which they live.
To qualify for a CDL, applicants must pass a knowledge test
on rules and regulations and then demonstrate in a skills
test that they can operate a bus safely. A national databank
records all driving violations incurred by persons who hold
commercial licenses, and a State may not issue a CDL to a
person who has already had a license suspended or revoked
in another State. To be issued a CDL, a driver must surrender
all other driver’s licenses. A driver with a CDL must accompany
trainees until the trainees get their own CDL. In addition
to having a CDL, all bus drivers must have a “passenger” endorsement
for their CDL, which requires passing a knowledge test and
demonstrating the necessary skills in a vehicle of the same
type as the one they would be driving in their duties. Information
on how to apply for a CDL and each type of endorsement can
be obtained from State motor vehicle administrations.
While many States allow those who are 18 years of age and
older to drive buses within State borders, the Department
of Transportation establishes minimum qualifications for bus
drivers engaged in interstate commerce. Federal Motor Carrier
Safety Regulations require drivers to be at least 21 years
old and to pass a physical examination once every 2 years.
The main physical requirements include good hearing, at least
20/40 vision with or without glasses or corrective lenses,
and a 70-degree field of vision in each eye. Drivers cannot
be colorblind. They must be able to hear a forced whisper
in one ear at not less than 5 feet, with or without a hearing
aide. Drivers must have normal blood pressure as well as normal
use of their arms and legs. They may not use any controlled
substances, unless prescribed by a licensed physician. Persons
with epilepsy or with diabetes controlled by insulin are not
permitted to be interstate bus drivers. Federal regulations
also require employers to test their drivers for alcohol and
drug use as a condition of employment and require periodic
random tests of the drivers while they are on duty. In addition,
a driver must not have been convicted of a felony involving
the use of a motor vehicle, a crime involving drugs, driving
under the influence of drugs or alcohol, refusing to submit
to an alcohol test required by a State or its implied consent
laws or regulations, leaving the scene of a crime, or causing
a fatality through negligent operation of a commercial vehicle.
All drivers must be able to read and speak English well enough
to read road signs, prepare reports, and communicate with
law enforcement officers and the public. In addition, drivers
must take a written examination on the Motor Carrier Safety
Regulations of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Because bus drivers 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. Drivers must have
strong customer service skills, including communication skills
and the ability to coordinate and manage large groups of people.
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 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.
School bus drivers also are required to obtain a CDL from
the State in which they live. They must additionally have
a “school bus” endorsement for their CDL. To receive this
endorsement, they must pass a written test and demonstrate
necessary skills. The skills portion of the test is taken
in a bus of the same type that they would be driving on their
route. Both of these tests are specific to school buses and
are in addition to the testing required to receive a CDL and
the “passenger” endorsement. Many persons who become school
bus drivers have never driven any vehicle larger than an automobile.
They receive between 1 and 4 weeks of driving instruction
and classroom training on State and local laws, regulations,
and policies of operating school buses; safe driving practices;
driver-pupil relations; first aid; special needs of disabled
and emotionally troubled students; and emergency evacuation
procedures. School bus drivers also must be aware of the school
system’s rules for discipline and conduct for bus drivers
and the students they transport.
During training, bus drivers practice driving on set courses.
They practice turns and zigzag maneuvers, backing up, and
driving 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 make regularly scheduled trips with passengers,
accompanied by an experienced driver who gives helpful tips,
answers questions, and evaluates the new driver’s performance.
Most bus drivers get brief supplemental training at regular
periods to keep abreast of safety issues and regulatory changes.
New intercity and local-transit drivers usually are placed
on an “extra” list to drive chartered runs, extra buses on
regular runs, and special runs (for example, during morning
and evening rush hours and to sports events). They also substitute
for regular drivers who are ill or on vacation. New drivers
remain on the extra list, and may work only part time, perhaps
for several years, until they have enough seniority to be
given a regular run.
Senior drivers may bid for the runs that they prefer, such
as those with more work hours, lighter traffic, weekends off,
or—in the case of intercity bus drivers—higher earnings or
fewer workdays per week.
Opportunities for promotion are generally limited. However,
experienced drivers may become supervisors or dispatchers—assigning
buses to drivers, checking whether drivers are on schedule,
rerouting buses to avoid blocked streets or other problems,
and dispatching 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.
Opportunities exist for bus drivers to become either instructors
of new bus drivers or master-instructors, who train new instructors.
A few drivers become managers. Promotion in publicly owned
bus systems is often determined by competitive civil service
examination. Some motor coach drivers purchase their own equipment
and open their own business.
Bus drivers held about 653,000 jobs in 2004. About 35 percent
worked part time. Around 71 percent of all bus drivers were
school bus drivers working primarily for school systems or
for companies providing school bus services under contract.
Most of the remainder worked for private and local government
transit systems; some also worked for intercity and charter
Persons seeking jobs as bus drivers likely will encounter
many opportunities. Individuals who have good driving records
and who are willing to work a part-time or irregular schedule
probably will have the best job prospects. School bus driving
jobs, particularly in rapidly growing suburban areas, should
be easiest to acquire because most are part-time positions
with high turnover and less training required than for other
bus-driving jobs. Those seeking higher paying public transit
bus driver positions may encounter competition. Opportunities
for intercity driving positions should be good, although employment
prospects for motor coach drivers will depend on tourism which
fluctuates with the cyclical nature of the economy.
Employment of bus drivers overall is expected to increase
about as fast as the average for all occupations through the
year 2014, primarily to meet the transportation needs of the
growing general population and the school-aged population.
Most job openings are expected to occur each year because
of the need to replace workers who take jobs in other occupations
or who retire or leave the occupation for other reasons.
The number of school bus drivers is expected to increase
as fast as average over the next 10 years, although at a decreasing
rate. School enrollments are projected to increase in 30 States
and to decrease in 20 States. The net effect will be a slowdown
in school enrollment and, therefore, in employment growth
of school bus drivers. This, as well as the part-time nature
of the occupation, will result in most openings for school
bus drivers being to replace those who leave the occupation.
Employment growth for local-transit bus drivers is expected
to be faster than the average for all occupations in 2004,
and will likely be the result of the increasing popularity
of mass transit due to congestion and rising fuel prices,
as well as the demand for transit services in expanding portions
of metropolitan areas. There may be competition for positions
with more regular hours and steady driving routes.
Competition from other modes of transportation—airplane,
train, or automobile—will temper job growth among intercity
bus drivers. Most growth in intercity bus transportation will
occur in group charters to locations not served by other modes
of transportation. Like automobiles, buses have a far greater
number of possible destinations than airplanes or trains.
Since they offer greater cost savings and convenience over
automobiles, buses usually are the most economical option
for tour groups traveling to out-of-the-way destinations.
Full-time bus drivers rarely are laid off during recessions.
If the number of passengers decreases, however, employers
might reduce the hours of part-time local-transit and intercity
bus drivers since fewer extra buses would be needed. Seasonal
layoffs are common. Many intercity bus drivers with little
seniority, for example, are furloughed during the winter when
regularly scheduled and charter business declines, while school
bus drivers seldom work during the summer or school holidays.
Median hourly earnings of transit and intercity bus drivers
were $14.30 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between
$10.74 and $19.31 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less
than $8.66, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $23.53
an hour. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing
the largest numbers of transit and intercity bus drivers in
May 2004 were as follows:
Interurban and rural bus transportation
Urban transit systems
Charter bus industry
Other transit and ground passenger transportation
Median hourly earnings of school bus drivers were $11.18
in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $8.10 and
$13.92 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $6.23,
and the highest 10 percent earned more than $16.81 an hour.
Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest
numbers of school bus drivers in May 2004 were as follows:
School and employee bus transportation
Elementary and secondary schools
Other transit and ground passenger transportation
Child day care services
Individual and family services
The benefits bus drivers receive from their employers vary
greatly. Most intercity and local-transit bus drivers receive
paid health and life insurance, sick leave, vacation leave,
and free bus rides on any of the regular routes of their line
or system. School bus drivers receive sick leave, and many
are covered by health and life insurance and pension plans.
Because they generally do not work when school is not in session,
they do not get vacation leave.
Many intercity and local-transit bus drivers are members
of the Amalgamated Transit Union. Local-transit bus drivers
in New York and several other large cities belong to the Transport
Workers Union of America. Some drivers belong to the United
Transportation Union or to the International Brotherhood of
Other workers who drive vehicles on highways and city streets
include taxi drivers
and chauffeurs, and truck drivers and driver/sales workers.
Sources of Additional Information
For information on employment opportunities, contact local-transit
systems, intercity buslines, school systems, or the local
offices of the State employment service.
General information on school bus driving is available from:
National School Transportation Association, 113 South
West St., 4th Floor, Alexandria, VA 22314.
National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation
Services, 6298 Rock Hill Road, The Plains, VA 20198-1916.
General information on motor coach driving is available from:
United Motorcoach Association, 113 South West St., 4th
Floor, Alexandria, VA 22314.
American Bus Association, 700 13th Street, NW., Suite
575, Washington, D.C. 20005.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,
Occupational Outlook Handbook,