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Bus Drivers - What They Do


How to Advance (Advancement)
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, such as those during morning and evening rush hours and to sports events. New drivers 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 get 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, but experienced drivers may become supervisors or dispatchers. In transit agencies with rail systems, drivers may become train operators or station attendants. Some bus drivers become either instructors of new bus drivers or master-instructors, who train new instructors. 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.

Employment
Bus drivers held about 647,500 jobs in 2008. Around 70 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
Bus drivers should expect average job growth and good employment opportunities. Those seeking higher paying public transit bus driver positions may encounter competition. Individuals who have clean driving records and who are willing to work part-time or irregular schedules will have the best job prospects.

Job Growth
Overall employment of bus drivers is expected to grow by 7 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. This growth will be spread among the various occupational specialties.

Employment growth for local transit and intercity bus drivers is projected to be 8 percent over the 2008-18 decade, about as fast as the average for all occupations, mainly as a result of a changing attitude toward public transit in the U.S. High gas prices in recent years have convinced many people to use public transportation. At the same time, public transportation is seen as an environmentally friendly alternative to driving. As a result, many State and local governments have increased funding for public transportation. This trend is expected to continue, and will lead to incrementally higher employment of transit bus drivers over the course of the projections decade. At the same time, however, inexpensive airline tickets and competition from train services will limit the growth of intercity bus travel.

Employment of school bus drivers is expected to grow by 6 percent over the 2008-18 decade, which is slower than the average for all occupations. The growth that does occur will be in response to an increase in the number of school-age children in the U.S. While enrollment continues to increase, however, growth will be tempered by budget cuts by local school districts, which has led to service reductions and greater emphasis on route efficiency.

People seeking jobs as bus drivers likely will have good opportunities. New jobs will be created, but most job openings are expected because of the need to replace workers who take jobs in other occupations or retire. School bus driving jobs, particularly in rapidly growing suburban areas, should be plentiful because most are part-time positions with high turnover. Those seeking higher paying public transit bus driver positions may encounter competition.

Individuals who have clean driving records and who are willing to work a part-time or irregular schedule probably will have the best job prospects. Opportunities for intercity driving positions should be good, although employment prospects for motor coach drivers will depend on tourism, which fluctuates with the economy.

Full-time bus drivers rarely are laid off during recessions, but competition for jobs increases significantly during periods of high unemployment. The majority of workers in this occupation are employed by local governments and schools. The number of students who need transportation to school does not change during times of economic distress, and mass transit ridership often goes up. However, during recessions, when workers in other industries lose their jobs, many try to become bus drivers, as it is a relatively high-paying job given that it requires so little training. As a result, people who want to become bus drivers during such times may face keen competition for jobs. In contrast, during times when unemployment is low, employers may have difficulty attracting enough people to this occupation.

Earnings
Median hourly wages for wage-and-salary transit and intercity bus drivers were $16.32 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $12.44 and $21.58 per hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.82, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $26.74 per hour.

Median hourly wages of wage-and-salary school bus drivers were $12.79 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $9.61 and $15.78 per hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.38, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $19.11 per hour.

Bus drivers generally receive good benefits from their employers. 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.

About 38 percent of bus drivers were members of unions or were covered by union contracts in 2008. Many intercity and local transit bus drivers are members of the Amalgamated Transit Union or Transport Workers Union of America.

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