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Bus Drivers

Significant Points
  • 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 drivers.
  • 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 emergency reflectors.

    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 student conduct.

    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.

    Working Conditions

    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 needs.

    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 bus lines.

    Job Outlook

    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:

    Local government $17.10
    Interurban and rural bus transportation 15.86
    Urban transit systems 13.49
    Charter bus industry 10.81
    Other transit and ground passenger transportation 10.74

    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 $11.97
    Elementary and secondary schools 10.74
    Other transit and ground passenger transportation 10.62
    Child day care services 9.28
    Individual and family services 8.75

    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 Teamsters.

    Related Occupations

    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


    Links to non-BLS Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.

    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.
        • Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition

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