Bus operator and mechanic duties vary, depending on whether they drive or work on local buses in cities and suburbs, intercity buses, long-distance buses between states, charter buses on tours or school buses. When drivers report to terminals to get their assignments, they inspect their buses, check the fuel, oil, water and tires, and make sure safety equipment is on board. Expert, careful drivers are constantly alert to prevent accidents.
They must be able to operate at safe speeds while meeting schedules and coping with adverse road and weather conditions.
Driving a bus is usually not physically taxing, but it requires concentration. The driver, solely responsible for the safety of passengers and bus, has a great deal of independence on the job.
Work schedules may be demanding. Intercity drivers may work nights and weekends. New drivers can be on call at all hours, ready to work on short notice. Driving schedules can range from six to 10 hours a day, from three to six days a week. Charter, intercity and long-distance drivers may remain away from home for a night or more.
Bus mechanics are usually employed in company garages or repair shops. They use their knowledge of tools and equipment to keep buses roadworthy and to make major repairs such as rebuilding engines and transmissions and other overhauls.
Bus operators must meet qualifications set by the U.S. Department of Transportation or a state agency. Most companies prefer experienced drivers who are at least 25 years old, and all require enough competence in English to communicate with passengers and complete reports. Other requirements are that the applicant be drug- and alcohol-free and have good hearing, at least 20/40 vision with or without glasses and normal use of arms and legs. Drivers must pass both comprehensive written examinations on motor vehicle regulations and driving tests in the types of buses they will operate. All states require drivers to have a commercial driver’s license. Many intercity bus companies give trainees two to eight weeks of classroom and “behind-the-wheel” driving instruction, as well as study of government rules and regulations, safe driving practices, ticket pricing, record keeping and passenger service. After passing all examinations, new drivers make regularly scheduled trips with experienced drivers. They start out substituting for regular drivers or driving charters until they earn enough seniority to get a regular assignment. Some bus companies will train inexperienced people to be bus mechanics, although most prefer prior experience with automobile or truck repair.
SMART TD interstate and charter bus operators work on a mileage or hourly basis, whichever pays more. Local mass transit operators earn an hourly rate, as do most school bus drivers, who work mostly part time. SMART TD bus mechanics also are paid an hourly rate based upon seniority. TD bus members are among the highest paid in the industry.
Many commuters are deciding to take the bus rather than fight traffic and hunt for expensive downtown parking. Bus companies also are establishing better routes and offering more seats to encourage ridership. Both trends should lead to the need for more mass transit buses and drivers. Federal data forecast that bus mechanics’ employment is expected to grow 8% between 2020 and 2030, with roughly 21,400 per year, and bus operators’ employment is projected to grow 25% between 2020 and 2030, with roughly 215,300 jobs added per year.
Hear about the union directly from SMART members themselves.
Longtime Amtrak conductor Carol Jones — who is also a local chairperson with SMART TD Local 1361 out of New Haven, Conn. — shares her story of coming up in the transportation industry and working as a pioneering woman in the passenger rail sector.