Three Ways to Improve Recruitment of Bus Drivers

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MacKechnie, Christopher. "Three Ways to Improve Recruitment of Bus Drivers." ThoughtCo, Aug. 6, 2016, MacKechnie, Christopher. (2016, August 6). Three Ways to Improve Recruitment of Bus Drivers. Retrieved from MacKechnie, Christopher. "Three Ways to Improve Recruitment of Bus Drivers." ThoughtCo. (accessed October 24, 2017).
Philadelphia bus
A bus loads a wheelchair in Center City Philadelphia. Christopher MacKechnie

Three Ways to Improve Recruitment of Bus Drivers

Despite the high unemployment rate, many transit agencies are having difficulty recruiting enough bus drivers to fill their requirements. How can they make their quota and get enough bus drivers to provide service?

Before we answer that question, let us review the requirements of being a bus driver from a typical transit agency jobs site.

There are three qualifications listed:

  1. Be 21 years or older.
  2. Have a safe driving record and have a valid driver's license for two years.
  3. Be able to upgrade the driver's license to a commercial drivers license (CDL).


In addition to the requirements, this agency prefers that an applicant have one year of experience working with the public in some capacity and enjoy working with the public. Note that the person does not even have to be a high school graduate. Since I do not work in human resources I do not know how many of our drivers do not have a high school diploma, but if I were hiring drivers I would not hire any high school drop-outs - if they could not be bothered to come to school, why would they be bothered to come to a job?

There seem to be two major issues that are reducing the labor pool:

1. A smaller percentage of young people are getting driver's licenses.

More and more young people are putting off the rite of passage of getting a driver's license.

The U.S. PIRG Education Fund shows that the number of 14- to 34-year-olds nationwide without a license increased from 21 percent to 26 percent between 2000 and 2010. Considering how much the cost of driving has increased during this time period, it is unlikely that this trend will be reversed - if anything, the number of people without a license could increase, especially as heightened awareness of environmental issues has increased the number of green passengers .

As discussed below, transit agencies may be able to counteract this trend.

2. Young people in high numbers are still using drugs and alcohol.

Unfortunately, many people are still choosing to use marijuana and other drugs, leaving them both unable to pass the pre-employment drug test and, even if they pass, subject to termination if they fail a future random drug test. I doubt transit agencies will be able to do anything about this factor.

There are three steps human resource departments in transit agencies could take that would help to alleviate the chronic shortage of qualified driver applicants:

1. Reduce the age requirement from 21 to 18.

Since bus driving is a blue-collar job that does not require post-high school education, the bus driver labor pool is looking for a job at age 18 rather than at age 21. By refusing to hire anyone under the age of 21, this transit agency is potentially losing out on a lot of good employees who by the time they reach 21 are ensconced in another career and are not looking for employment. Note that if one received a driver's license at age 16 he or she would have two years of driving experience at age 18, meeting that requirement. Note also that the minimum age for receiving a CDL in California is 18.

2. Expand the recruitment audience.

Because bus driving does not require a college degree, recruitment for the position does not typically include outreach to institutes of higher education. However, as the recent economic downturn has caused high levels of unemployment even for those with college degrees, the time is right to reach out. With maximum wage rates of $25/hr and higher, bus driving competes favorably with many white-collar job. While many outside the industry may believe bus driving to be a dead-end job, in fact drivers with college degrees are positioned very favorably for advancement in the company as supervisors, schedulers, planners, or other positions . In fact, beginning as a bus driver has traditionally been the first step in becoming a planner or scheduler .

3. Develop high school mentoring programs.

In conjunction with the first two points, transit agencies should consider offering mentoring programs in high school. Many students are not going on to college, but still must find a career. By reaching out to the youth of today at a vulnerable time, transit agencies can develop future employees who could devote a lifetime of service. If the agency can connect with a student at a young enough age, they can not only assist the student in obtaining the original driver's license but also perhaps steer them away from experimentation with drugs and alcohol.

By relaxing employment requirements and reaching out to non-traditional candidates, transit agencies should be able to improve their recruitment of driver candidates. By coupling these strategies with those designed to decrease turnover of existing drivers by resolving some of the employment issues that cause drivers to leave , transit agencies will be in good condition to cut costs by reducing the amount of overtime given to drivers.

Not mentioned is another option: raise wages.  While increasing pay certainly would be expected to attract additional applicants, unless additional government financial assistance would be forthcoming (which in late 2015 seems unlikely) raising wages would merely increase costs, requiring either a fare increase or service reductions to cover.  Of course, doing either of those two things would make transit unattractive.