What Does a Bus Driver Do?
Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More
Bus drivers are responsible for transporting people safely from one place to another on a bus, usually along predetermined routes. Different types of bus drivers include:
- School bus drivers: They drive students to and from school and school-related activities.
- Local transit bus drivers: These drivers follow specific schedules to get people where they need to go along a certain route.
- Intercity bus drivers: They transport people between different cities or towns.
- Charter bus drivers: Usually, these drivers bring people on chartered trips and tours.
Bus Driver Duties & Responsibilities
The job generally requires the ability to perform the following duties:
- Drive safely along designated routes
- Obey traffic laws, safety procedures, and transit regulations
- Pick up and drop of passengers at designated locations
- Follow a specific timetable while on duty
- Assist passengers with disabilities to get on the bus
- Prevent or stop unruly behavior from passengers
- Communicate with passengers and employers regarding delays or any issues along a route
- Check the bus tires, lights, and oil when needed for basic maintenance
Additional duties vary somewhat among different types of bus drivers and employers. For example, some bus drivers may be responsible for collecting fares, handling customer luggage, or keeping track of passengers.
To ensure safe travel, bus drivers must operate their vehicles with great care. They must also ensure that passengers are safe from harm from within the bus.
Drug and alcohol use while on duty is strictly forbidden. Not only can it get a bus driver fired, it can get a bus driver arrested and CDL suspended. A driver with a suspended CDL cannot legally operate a bus.
Bus Driver Salary
A bus driver's salary can vary depending on location, experience, and employer. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) separates salary data for different types of bus drivers.
School and charter bus drivers:
- Median Annual Salary: $32,420
- Top 10% Annual Salary: $49,430
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $19,000
Local and intercity transit bus drivers:
- Median Annual Salary: $42,080
- Top 10% Annual Salary: $69,070
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $25,550
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019
Education, Training, & Certification
Education: Most often, individuals need a high school diploma to qualify for bus driver positions. A college degree is rarely required.
Licensing: Bus drivers need a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Requirements vary by state, but they usually include passing a written test, eye test, hearing test, and a driving test. Bus drivers also need to get specific endorsements on their CDL licenses. All bus drivers need a passenger endorsement (P), and school bus drivers also need a school bus endorsement (S). These endorsements usually require additional testing.
Training: Bus drivers are usually required to complete training that includes driving practice and time in a classroom. Once they're ready to make trips with passengers, they may be accompanied by more experienced drivers. This training period can last anywhere from one to three months depending on the employer.
Experience: Holding a valid CDL with the proper endorsements should be enough to land a bus driver job. When many applicants apply to a position, professional experience driving a bus can put an applicant toward the top of the list of interviewees. Most employers also require candidates to pass a background check as well.
Federal law requires interstate bus drivers to submit to random drug testing while on duty and pass a physical exam every two years.
Bus Driver Skills & Competencies
To be successful in this role, you’ll generally need the following skills and qualities:
- Interpersonal skills: Bus drivers must be able to respectfully interact with passengers of all kinds.
- Communication skills: Bus drivers must be able to communicate effectively with passengers and their employers about any safety concerns or issues that arise due to traffic, weather, or unforeseen circumstances.
- Hand-eye coordination: The lives of many passengers are in your hands when you're operating a bus.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment in this field overall will grow 6 percent through 2026, which is slightly slower than the overall employment growth of 7 percent for all occupations in the country.
Being a bus driver can be somewhat stressful when dealing with passenger, traffic, and weather issues. Drivers must still be able to remain calm and drive safely when dealing with these circumstances.
The BLS notes that transit and intercity bus drivers have among the highest rates of injury for all occupations it tracks, and notes that those injuries are mostly related to traffic accidents.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has set rules that bus drivers must follow to ensure safety. For example, drivers are required to take at least an eight-hour break after driving for 10 consecutive hours. Other rules and restrictions vary depending on types of routes.
School bus drivers usually drive their routes in the morning before school starts, when school lets out, and as needed for additional school events and activities.
Local and intercity transit drivers work varying schedules depending on their routes. They may need to drive nights, weekends, early mornings, or holidays.
Charter bus drivers often have the most varying schedules, and they may be on the road for days at a time, depending on their clients' needs.
How to Get the Job
Prepare for a background check
Many employers require bus driver candidates to pass a background check before hiring them. Prepare by finding out what a background check entails.
Get medical card self-certification
The federal government and some states require people with a CDL to provide a copy of their Medical Examiner's Certificate to their licensing agency to make sure that they meet the physical requirements of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
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Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019