Bus Drivers

Career, Salary and Education Information

What Bus Drivers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Bus drivers transport people between various places—including, work, school, and shopping malls—and across state and national borders. Some drive regular routes, and others transport passengers on chartered trips or sightseeing tours. They drive a range of vehicles, from 15-passenger buses to 60-foot articulated buses (with two connected sections) that can carry more than 100 passengers.

Duties of Bus Drivers

Bus drivers typically do the following:

  • Pick up and drop off passengers at designated locations
  • Follow a planned route according to a time schedule
  • Help disabled passengers get on and off the bus
  • Obey traffic laws and state and federal transit regulations
  • Follow procedures to ensure passenger safety
  • Keep passengers informed of possible delays
  • Perform basic maintenance (check the bus tires, lights, and oil)
  • Keep the bus clean and presentable to the public

School bus drivers transport students to and from school and other activities. On school days, drivers pick up students in the morning and return them home in the afternoon. They also drive students to field trips, sporting events, and other activities. Between morning and afternoon trips, some drivers work at schools in other occupations, such as janitors, cafeteria workers, or mechanics. School bus drivers typically do the following:

  • Ensure the safety of children getting on and off the bus
  • Attend to the needs of children with disabilities
  • Keep order and safety on the school bus
  • Understand and enforce the school system’s conduct rules
  • Report disciplinary problems to the school district or parents

Local transit bus drivers follow a daily schedule while transporting people on regular routes along city or suburban streets. They stop frequently, often every few blocks and when a passenger requests a stop. Some large transit agencies may require bus drivers to submit traffic data for analysis. Local transit drivers typically do the following:

  • Collect bus fares, sometimes making change for passengers
  • Answer questions about schedules, routes, and transfer points
  • Report accidents or other traffic disruptions to a central dispatcher

Intercity bus drivers transport passengers between cities or towns, sometimes crossing state lines. They usually pick up and drop off passengers at bus stations or curbside locations in downtown urban areas. Intercity drivers typically do the following:

  • Ensure all passengers have a valid ticket to ride the bus
  • Sell tickets to passengers when there are unsold seats available, if necessary
  • Keep track of when passengers get on or off the bus
  • Follow a central dispatcher’s instruction when taking an alternate route
  • Help passengers load or unload baggage

Charter bus drivers, sometimes called motorcoach drivers, transport passengers on chartered trips or sightseeing tours. Trip planners generally arrange their schedules and routes based on the convenience of the passengers, who are often on vacation. Motor coach drivers are sometimes away for long periods of time because they usually stay with the passengers for the length of the trip. Motor coach drivers typically do the following:

  • Listen to and sometimes address passenger complaints
  • Ensure the trip stays on schedule
  • Help passengers load or unload baggage
  • Account for all passengers before leaving a location
  • Act as tour guides for passengers, if necessary

Work Environment for Bus Drivers[About this section] [To Top]

Bus drivers hold about 665,000 jobs. Of those, about 75 percent were school bus drivers or special-client bus drivers.

School bus drivers or special-client bus drivers are usually employed by a school district or private transportation company that contracts with a district to provide bus service. Some school bus service is provided by a local government.

The industries that employ the most school bus drivers are as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; local 41%
School and employee bus transportation 30
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 12
Other transit and ground passenger transportation 6

Most transit bus drivers worked for local governments or urban transit systems, which are private companies that contract with a city or town to provide bus service. Most charter-bus drivers worked in the charter-bus industry, and intercity bus drivers typically work in the interurban and rural bus transportation industry.

The industries that employ the most transit and intercity bus drivers are as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals 48%
Urban transit systems 17
Charter bus industry 11
Interurban and rural bus transportation 6

Driving through heavy traffic or bad weather and dealing with unruly passengers can be stressful for bus drivers.

Injuries and Illnesses

Bus drivers, especially transit and intercity drivers, had a higher rate of work-related injuries and illnesses than the national average. Most injuries to bus drivers were due to highway accidents.

Bus Driver Work Schedules

School bus drivers work only when school is in session. Some make multiple runs if schools in their district each open and close at different times. Others make only two runs, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, so their work hours are limited.

Transit drivers may work weekends, late nights, and early mornings.

Motor coach drivers travel with their passengers. The trip schedule dictates a driver’s hours. They may work all hours of the day, as well as weekends and holidays. Intercity bus drivers can spend some nights away because of long-distance routes. Other intercity bus drivers make a round trip and go home at the end of each shift.

How to Become a Bus Driver[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Bus Drivers near you!

Bus drivers must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). This can sometimes be earned during on-the-job training. A bus driver must possess a clean driving record and often may be required to pass a background check. They also must meet physical, hearing and vision requirements. In addition, bus drivers often need a high school diploma or the equivalent.

Bus Driver Education

Most employers prefer drivers to have a high school diploma or equivalent.

Bus Driver Training

Bus drivers typically go through 1 to 3 months of training. Part of the training is spent on a driving course, where drivers practice various maneuvers with a bus. They then begin to drive in light traffic and eventually make practice runs on the type of route that they expect to drive. New drivers make regularly scheduled trips with passengers and are accompanied by an experienced driver who gives helpful tips, answers questions, and evaluates the new driver's performance.

Some drivers’ training is also spent in the classroom. They learn their company’s rules and regulations, state and municipal traffic laws, and safe driving practices. Drivers also learn about schedules and bus routes, fares, and how to interact with passengers.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All bus drivers must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Some new bus drivers can earn their CDL during on-the-job training. The qualifications for getting one vary by state but generally include passing both knowledge and driving tests. States have the right to not issue a license to someone who has had a CDL suspended by another state.

Drivers can get endorsements to a CDL that reflect their ability to drive a special type of vehicle. All bus drivers must have a passenger (P) endorsement, and school bus drivers must also have a school bus (S) endorsement. Getting the P and S endorsements requires additional knowledge and driving tests administered by a certified examiner.

Many states require all bus drivers to be 18 years of age or older and those who drive across state lines to be at least 21 years old.

Federal regulations require interstate bus drivers to pass a physical exam and submit to random testing for drug or alcohol abuse while on duty. Most states impose similar regulations. Bus drivers can have their CDL suspended if they are convicted of a felony involving the use of a motor vehicle or of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Other actions also can result in a suspension after multiple violations. A list of violations is available from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Most bus drivers are required to undergo background checks before they are hired.

Advancement for Bus Drivers

Opportunities for promotion are generally limited, but experienced drivers may become supervisors or dispatchers. Some veteran bus drivers become instructors of new bus drivers.

Important Qualities for Bus Drivers

Customer-service skills. Bus drivers regularly interact with passengers and must be courteous and helpful.

Hand-eye coordination. Driving a bus requires the controlled use of multiple limbs on the basis of what a person observes. Federal regulations require drivers to have normal use of their arms and legs.

Hearing ability. Bus drivers need good hearing. Federal regulations require the ability to hear a forced whisper in one ear at five feet (with or without the use of a hearing aid).

Patience. Because of possible traffic congestion and sometimes unruly passengers, bus drivers are put in stressful situations and must remain calm and continue to operate their bus.

Physical health. Federal and state regulations do not allow people to become bus drivers if they have a medical condition that may interfere with their operation of a bus, such as high blood pressure or epilepsy. A full list of medical reasons that keep someone from becoming a licensed bus driver is available from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Visual ability. Bus drivers must be able to pass vision tests. Federal regulations require at least 20/40 vision with a 70-degree field of vision in each eye and the ability to distinguish colors on a traffic light.

Bus Driver Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for bus drivers, transit and intercity is $38,290. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,310, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $62,240.

The median annual wage for bus drivers, school or special client is $29,490. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $18,210, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $45,670.

The median annual wages for school or special-client bus drivers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals $32,850
School and employee bus transportation 31,810
Elementary and secondary schools; local 28,490
Other transit and ground passenger transportation 26,470

School bus drivers work only when school is in session. Some make multiple runs if schools in their district each open and close at different times. Others make only two runs, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, so their work hours are limited.

The median annual wages for transit and intercity bus drivers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals $45,270
Interurban and rural bus transportation 35,910
Urban transit systems 35,340
Charter bus industry 28,910

Transit drivers may work weekends, late nights, and early mornings.

Motor coach drivers travel with their vacationing passengers. The work hours of motor coach drivers are dictated by a tour schedule, and drivers may work all hours of the day, as well as weekends and holidays. Some intercity bus drivers have long-distance routes, so they spend some nights away. Other intercity bus drivers make a round trip and go home at the end of each shift.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, bus drivers have a higher percentage of workers who belong to a union.

Job Outlook for Bus Drivers[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of bus drivers is projected to grow 6 percent through 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Employment of school or special-client bus drivers is projected to grow 6 percent, largely because of an increase in the number of school-age children. However, growth will most likely occur for contracting services that provide school bus transport as more school districts outsource their transportation needs. In addition, the demand for special-needs transportation will continue to increase because of the aging population.

Employment of transit and intercity drivers (including charter buses) is projected to grow 6 percent. Some new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems are opening throughout the country, which should create some employment opportunities. In addition, population movement towards large metropolitan areas will create more job opportunities for transit drivers.

Intercity bus travel that picks up passengers from curbside locations in urban downtowns should continue to grow. This form of travel is expected to remain popular due to the cheap fares and passenger conveniences such as Wi-Fi.

Bus Drivers Job Prospects

Job opportunities for bus drivers should be favorable, especially for school bus drivers, as many drivers are expected to leave the occupation. Those willing to work part time or irregular shifts should have the best prospects. Prospects for motor coach and intercity drivers should also be favorable as the industry struggles to attract and retain qualified drivers.

Employment projections data for Bus Drivers, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Bus drivers 665,000 702,500 6 37,500
  Bus drivers, transit and intercity 167,800 177,600 6 9,800
  Bus drivers, school or special client 497,200 524,900 6 27,700


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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