Growth Trends for Related Jobs
Whether they're taking students home after the school day or transporting students on a field trip, school bus drivers must safely get students between locations and handle any student behavioral issues that arise on the bus. These school bus driver duties require the driver to remain focused in stressful situations and have interests in both working with children and driving. This career is a good fit for people who want a part-time position during the school year and enjoy a flexible schedule. How much school bus drivers make in a year depends on how many trips they make in a day, how experienced they are and whether they work for a school district or independent company. Working in the summer or for a year-round institution can help increase earnings.
Based on the May 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures, the median annual school bus driver salary is $31,060. Actual earnings depend on location, experience, employer and number of work hours.
School bus drivers often pick up children from bus stops, bring the students to school and then drive them back home at the end of the school day. They also offer their services to transport students to after-school activities or field trips. In addition to safely operating the bus, they have to pay attention to how students behave and handle behavioral problems promptly. They also report distracting student behaviors that can present a safety risk and cause the driver to not be able to focus on the road. Other school bus driver duties can include cleaning the bus between runs, doing some basic vehicle maintenance tasks, answering radio calls from other bus drivers and maintaining schedules and driving logs.
Working as a school bus driver requires superb driving and patience. Since students need to be transported in all weather conditions and traffic, school bus drivers need to be observant and adjust their driving to maintain safety in changing conditions. Having good eyesight, hearing and hand-eye coordination are also essential to safe driving. Driving with misbehaving children can be stressful and distracting, so bus drivers need to stay patient, calm and focused in challenging situations.
In addition to being at least 18 and having a high school diploma and regular driver's license, school bus drivers undertake thorough training, evaluation and commercial vehicle licensing processes to qualify for the job. While state requirements determine the specific steps, aspiring drivers usually need to obtain a commercial driver's license, or CDL, pass drug and alcohol tests, complete federal and state background checks and take physical exams. They also need to show proof of a satisfactory driving history, complete classroom and road training and show they can handle the physical and mental aspects of the job.
In some cases, the school district or transportation service may assist with the entire licensing and training processes. Otherwise, individuals go through the processes independently. Aspiring drivers first obtain a commercial driver's learner's permit to qualify to begin driving training. This requires reviewing the state's commercial driving manual and then passing relevant knowledge tests for the state passenger and school bus endorsements (typically abbreviated as the P and S endorsements). After getting the permit, aspiring drivers can begin training and complete the state's required hours of classroom training and then spend several hours operating and driving a school bus.
After learning to safely operate school buses, drivers can take the state's licensing exam that requires a driving test to demonstrate their skills. Passing all knowledge and skills tests along with any required background and health screenings will lead to a CDL with the necessary endorsements to drive a school bus. All other state requirements will also need to be met to begin working. Depending on state requirements, keeping the license can require refresher training and retakes of road and knowledge tests at a specific interval, such as every four years.
An estimated 40 percent of bus drivers work directly for school districts that serve local elementary and secondary schools. Private school and employee bus transportation services employ another 30 percent of drivers and contract with schools to offer transportation. Smaller numbers of school bus drivers work for charter services that take students to extracurricular events or work for specific private educational institutions such as day care centers or preschools.
Most school bus drivers work during the school year and are off during breaks, although some offer their services to transport summer school students. Others who work for year-round institutions may not have extended time off. Due to the limited work hours, working as a school bus driver is often a part-time job, and individuals may seek additional work to increase their earnings and fill in their downtime.
Specific school bus driver hours will ultimately depend on the starting and ending hours for the schools they serve. Some work very part-time hours and only do rounds to pick up and drop off children for a specific school. Others may work more hours during the day and transport kids to and from multiple schools in the area.
Years of Experience and Salary
As of May 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median school bus driver salary of $31,060 a year, which is $14.93 an hour. This means that half of school bus drivers make less while half make more. The 10 percent of school bus drivers with the lowest pay get under $18,790 a year ($9.04 an hour), and the top-paid 10 percent receive more than $47,860 annually ($23.01 an hour).
Wages for school bus drivers vary slightly depending on the employer. School bus drivers who work for school districts serving elementary and secondary schools earn on average $31,200 a year ($15.00 an hour). Those who work for school and employee bus transportation agencies earn a slightly higher average salary of $34,060 ($16.38 an hour). School bus drivers working for charter bus companies average $33,640 a year ($16.17 an hour).
School bus driver salaries also depend on the geographic location. Drivers serving schools in Washington, D.C., New York and Alaska make the top average yearly wages – $43,420, $40,170 and $39,610, respectively. Southern states tend to offer the lowest salaries. For example, school bus drivers in Alabama and Arkansas make respective average yearly wages of only $18,550 and $21,030. Major metropolitan areas tend to have higher school bus driver wages. For example, the San Francisco metro area pays the top average yearly wage of $52,410.
As school bus drivers gain experience, they see some modest growth in their earnings. October 2018 data from PayScale showed that entry-level school bus drivers make $30,000 on average a year and earn $31,000 after working five to 10 years in the occupation. The average salary goes up to $34,000 with 10 to 20 years of experience, and the most experienced school bus drivers with more than 20 years of experience average $35,000.
Job Growth Trend
Job growth for all bus drivers is expected to be at an average rate between 2016 and 2026 based on the current BLS data. School and special client bus driver employment can expect a 5-percent increase, which would add around 27,300 jobs over the decade. As more children reach the age to attend school and existing drivers retire, new school bus drivers will be needed to drive students. Although school districts, private institutions and transportation contracting agencies have available jobs, the outlook may be better for drivers seeking work through outsourcing agencies. While experienced school bus drivers stand out for employment, prospects are still very good for aspiring drivers since employers are willing to offer training to qualified individuals who are new to commercial driving.
- PennDOT Driver & Vehicle Services: How to Become a School Bus Driver?
- Ohio Department of Education: Qualifications Requirements for On-Vehicle Transportation Staff
- Rohrer: Rewards & Reasons for Becoming a Part-Time School Bus Driver
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Bus Drivers
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: 53-3022 Bus Drivers, School or Special Client
- PayScale: Average Bus Driver, School Hourly Pay
- Indeed: School Bus Driver Job Description
- East Side Union High School District: Job Title – School Bus Driver
- FirstStudent: Charter Bus Rentals
Ashley Donohoe started writing professionally about business topics in 2010. Having eight years experience running all aspects of her small business, she is knowledgeable about the daily issues and decisions that business owners face. She has also served as a mentor in the IT industry. She has earned a Master of Business Administration degree with a leadership and strategy concentration from Western Governors University. Some other places featuring her business writing include JobHero, Bizfluent, LoveToKnow, PocketSense, Chron and Study.com.