Transit Bus Driver Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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A transit bus driver's mean annual salary is around $39,000, but what are the training and licensure requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects and salary to find out if becoming a transit bus driver might be the right fit for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Transit Bus Driver

Being a transit bus driver means driving a big vehicle while being accountable for the safe movement of passengers within a municipality or between municipalities or states over specified routes. Have a look at these pros and cons of being a transit bus driver to decide if it's right for you.

Pros of a Transit Bus Driver Career
Typically short training period (1-3 months)*
Work without direct supervision**
Average job-growth field (10% growth for transit and intercity drivers is projected)*
New transit services could lead to job creation*

Cons of a Transit Bus Driver Career
Potential to work weekends or evenings*
Can be stressful dealing with passengers and traffic conditions*
Working alone may place you in a high-risk situation**
Advancement is available but somewhat limited*
Higher than average work-related illness and injury rate*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET OnLine.

Career Information

Job Description

If you consider yourself a people person, becoming a transit bus driver might be a good career choice. Depending on your company or your specific assignment, you'll be driving a vehicle that carries 15-100 people. Though you might not have a great deal of contact with each of your passengers, you'll have ample opportunity to put your public relations skills to good use.

Once hired, you may be assigned to extra runs, evening or morning rush hours or special events. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 50% of bus drivers worked full-time in 2010, and schedules were varied for many workers.

Job Duties

Prior to beginning your shift, you'll likely be responsible for a certain amount of prep work at the bus terminal. You'll inspect your vehicle for required safety equipment and ensure that any necessary maintenance has been performed.

While on shift, you'll collect fares, answer passenger questions and make scheduled stops. Intercity and interstate drivers may assist passengers with their luggage. Local transit drivers are also responsible for customer-requested stops, which can come as often as every few blocks. Despite light or heavy traffic, inclement weather or the frequency of customer-requested stops, you'll be required to try to comply with the timing of your scheduled stops and route. You'll also need to submit a report on your run, indicating any reasons for delays or mechanical problems.

Job Growth and Salary Information

According to the BLS, employment of transit and intercity bus drivers was expected to grow 10% from 2012-2022. This was about as fast as the average for all occupations. As of May 2014, the BLS reported that the mean annual salary for transit and intercity bus drivers was around $39,000. Industries employing the most transit and intercity bus drivers included local governments and urban transit systems.

What Are the Requirements?

To qualify to become a transit bus driver, you'll need a special license to drive a bus. You'll also have to meet specific physical requirements. Some employers prefer that you have a high school diploma. In some states, you'll need to be at least 18 years of age or 21 years of age for interstate driving jobs.

Get Licensed

The main requirement to become a bus driver is to hold a commercial driver's license (CDL) with a passenger endorsement (P), the BLS reports. To obtain the appropriate CDL, you must sit for a set of knowledge tests on local, state and federal rules and regulations and a set of skills tests, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Skills tests are taken using the type of vehicle you intend to operate.

Exams are often administered through your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). However, a state may authorize a third party to administer the test, provided that third party is inspected and approved by the FMCSA. Transportation companies and transit organizations may conduct training classes to prepare you for your CDL exam. In addition, privately owned, state-approved, licensed driving schools often offer CDL preparation courses.

Additional Requirements and Considerations

To obtain a CDL, you must be able to read and communicate effectively in English and have a clean driving record. The BLS reports that these additional abilities and traits are necessary to qualify for a position:

  • At least 20/40 eyesight
  • A 70-degree field of vision
  • Ability to hear a forced whisper at a distance not less than five feet (hearing aids acceptable)
  • Capability of distinguishing between the colors of traffic lights

While a medical condition that might interfere with your performance or present a safety hazard, such as epilepsy or insulin-controlled diabetes, means you can't work in this field, if you have a physical disability, such as missing arms, legs, hands, fingers or feet, you may still be able to qualify for a job as a bus driver. The FMCSA maintains four regional service centers throughout the country where you can sit for a skills test that can earn you a skill performance evaluation (SPE) certificate. An SPE certificate indicates that you can successfully perform the operations necessary to safely drive a bus.

Job Posting from Real Employers

Since the job focuses on dependability, companies may investigate records of your performance and attendance at previous places of employment. You'll also find that most companies require you to submit to a drug screening and police background check prior to being hired. Below are some examples of job postings from March 2012:

  • A transit company in Maryland was looking for potential part- or full-time drivers of at least 21 years of age who held or were able to obtain a CDL with a (P) endorsement. Candidates needed at least three years of driving experience and had to pass a background check and drug test.
  • A California transportation company was looking for drivers of at least 21 years of age. Applicants needed to be neat and personable and have a clean DMV record and a reliable employment history. A CDL with (P) and airbrake endorsements was preferred. This was a full-time position with benefits.
  • A transit agency in Vermont was seeking applicants for part-time positions as drivers. Applicants needed to be amenable to flexible work hours. A CDL with (P) endorsement was preferred, but the company was willing to provide training to sit for the examination. Interested candidates needed to be experienced drivers and had to submit to a background check and drug screening.
  • An area transit company in New York was looking for part-time potential drivers who were at least 21 years old, polite and held a high school diploma or equivalent. Applicants needed a CDL with a (P) endorsement or had to be willing to earn one. A pre-employment background check and drug screening were required.

How Can I Stand Out?

Assuming you can obtain a CDL with a (P) endorsement without any problems, you'll also want to make yourself more attractive to potential employers. There are a number of things you might do in this regard.

Flexibility

Focusing on an employer's needs, you should see to it that you're as flexible as possible with your schedule. If you can, be open to unexpected assignments and offer to fill in as often as possible, perhaps taking holiday shifts or other less desirable runs. Enthusiasm and a willingness to be a team player can work in your favor.

Extra Training

Because emergencies come in various forms, you might want to pursue specialized training in incident management. Such preparation on your own volition can not only help you handle unexpected situations, but can also indicate to an employer seriousness, dedication and professionalism on your part. For instance, the American Red Cross offers first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification courses that may stand you in good stead.

Civil Service Exam

Promotion in public transit systems is often determined by sitting for a civil service exam. You can find out requirements and open test dates through state or local government agencies. A thorough understanding of the exam could be to your advantage and may enable you to score higher than your competitors.

Other Career Paths

School Bus Driver

Rather than putting all your eggs in one basket as a transit bus driver, you might want to consider an alternative occupation as a school bus driver. You may even want to consider the qualification in addition to transit driver. You'll need a CDL with an (S) endorsement, in addition to a (P) endorsement. To earn the (S) endorsement, you're required to pass a set of knowledge and skills tests pertaining specifically to school bus operation.

In addition to complying with the same federal regulations as those to become a transit bus driver, you'll have state requirements that must be met. These can include obtaining CPR certification, completing state-administered didactic and practical courses, passing a physical exam, passing drug and alcohol screening exams and having no disqualifying felony convictions.

Chauffeur

If you're self-motivated, know your way around the city in which you live and don't mind long or irregular hours spent behind a wheel, you might consider becoming a chauffeur. As a chauffeur, you can interact with smaller groups of people or possibly one-on-one with private clients. Generally, your hours are determined by the needs of your clients. Though there's no education requirement, many chauffeurs have earned high school diplomas or GEDs. In addition to holding a common automobile driver's license, many localities require you to hold a chauffeur's license.

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