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What does a bus driver do?
A bus driver is also known as a coach or minibus driver. They drive buses and coaches and pick up, transport and drop off passengers to and from various local, national or overseas destinations. Most bus drivers will follow pre-determined routes and frequently stop at bus stops.
Bus drivers can specialise in driving different types of vehicles, such as buses, coaches, minibuses and double-deckers, carrying various passengers. They can drive buses over short, medium or long distances and transport the general public, school children or private clients. Therefore, what bus drivers do will depend on their role and specialisms.
A bus driver’s main aim is to ensure passengers get to their destinations safely and are happy, comfortable and secure during their journey. They must also adhere to road safety laws and codes, follow timetables and get to bus stops on time. Overall, they provide a vital lifeline to those who do not have a vehicle to get from A to B.
Bus drivers will carry out many tasks, including carrying out basic vehicle safety checks, driving along pre-determined routes, stopping at allocated bus stops, taking fares, issuing tickets, checking bus passes and tickets, assisting vulnerable passengers, providing information on routes and timetables, reporting any issues, cleaning/tidying, etc. Those driving long distances may also check travel documents, load/unload luggage, make announcements and check passengers are on board.
Bus drivers work alone for most of their working day, as they will be driving in their bus cabs, but they will interact with passengers frequently and may also have colleagues with them, e.g. driver’s mates. Back at the depot, they may work with managers, supervisors, other bus drivers, maintenance staff, cleaners and support staff. On the road, they may liaise with other road users and police, and if travelling internationally, they may deal with border staff.
Bus drivers will mainly work for public transport companies and coach operators. They can also work for other employers, such as local authorities, schools, private clients, airports, football clubs, travel groups, entertainment venues, etc.
A bus driver can work for small, medium or large-sized companies locally, nationally, in mainland Europe and internationally. Some work for recruitment agencies on a temporary or contract basis.
A bus driver’s responsibilities will depend on the type of vehicles they drive, where they transport passengers to and from and their role.
Some examples of their day-to-day duties can include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Carrying out basic vehicle safety checks.
- Picking up passengers and dropping them off at their destinations.
- Taking fares (cash, card and contactless).
- Checking tickets and passes.
- Giving passengers information on routes and timetables.
- Assisting vulnerable passengers to get on or off the vehicle and helping them with their belongings.
- Stopping at scheduled stops along the route.
- Keeping to timetables.
- Driving safely and legally between destinations.
- Keeping vehicles clean and tidy.
- Reporting any issues, incidents and errors.
- Completing various paperwork, such as vehicle checks, driving hours and incident reports.
Individuals who drive coaches may have additional responsibilities, such as:
- Greeting passengers.
- Helping passengers to load and unload luggage.
- Checking travel documents and other paperwork.
- Making in-journey announcements.
- Ensuring passengers are on board before departing and after scheduled stops.
- Providing up-to-date travel information to passengers and liaising with border staff (overseas journeys).
A bus driver can expect to work 45-47 hours a week, but they can do more or fewer hours depending on their role, route and schedule.
There is a maximum number of hours bus drivers can work during the day and week, and they cannot legally work longer than:
- 9 hours a day or 10 hours twice a week (they must not drive longer than 4.5 hours without taking a 45-minute break).
- 56 hours a week.
- 90 hours over two weeks (if they have reached 56 hours one week, they would only be able to work 34 hours the second).
A bus driver’s hours must be legally tracked and recorded in a tachograph.
Being a bus driver is not a 9-5 job, and those looking at entering this profession must be committed to working unsociable hours, e.g. early mornings, evenings, nights, weekends and bank holidays. Some bus drivers may need to do overnight stays if driving over longer distances.
Bus drivers will travel during their working day. Depending on their role, they could be based on one site or travel between different ones and could drive locally, nationally and overseas. It can lengthen the working day when travelling back to base and home.
What to expect
There are many positives to being a bus driver, especially if individuals love driving and travelling to different places and meeting various passengers along the way. It can be rewarding, especially when helping and safely transporting more vulnerable people, e.g. the elderly, to and from their destinations.
Public transport, like buses, can get people out of cars, which can have environmental benefits. Buses can also be a lifeline for some people, especially in more remote communities. Bus drivers have an essential role in helping people and the environment, and they can go home at the end of the working day knowing their job makes a positive difference.
Bus drivers are independent and will spend most of their time in their cabs alone. Even though they interact with passengers, it is, in most cases, minimal. Therefore, it can suit individuals on the more introverted side.
The role may suit less academic individuals, as it does not require formal qualifications. However, individuals will need a driving licence and be able to pass training and tests. It is possible to do this in 6-8 weeks, especially if individuals demonstrate good driving skills.
There is no shortage of bus driver roles. In fact, there is a shortage of drivers, so there are plenty of jobs available nationally and overseas, and there are different buses and journey types in which to specialise. The salary is also competitive compared to other career choices, especially with more experience.
Boredom will never be a problem for bus drivers, as the role allows them to travel and see other areas, including nationally and overseas. They will also interact with people from all walks of life during their working day, which can be interesting.
Even though there are positives to being a bus driver, there are challenges and cons, e.g. (this list is not exhaustive):
- Challenging passengers – unfortunately, not all passengers are pleasant to interact with or deal with. Some can be extremely rude and unpleasant and, in some cases, abusive and aggressive. There have been cases of bus drivers experiencing violence and physical attacks. Passengers can also get rowdy and affect others during the journey, especially if under the influence. Most buses are fitted with protective screens and CCTV to protect drivers.
- Sitting down for long periods – if individuals are looking for a more active role, being a bus driver is not likely to tick the box. Bus drivers sit down in their bus cabs for long periods during their working day.
- Time away from home and unsociable hours – some bus driving roles require individuals to work away from home, and the hours can be at awkward times, which can be difficult for some to balance family and work life.
- Physical demands – being a bus driver can be physically demanding. They may be involved with loading and unloading passengers’ luggage and belongings, which can mean manual handling. Concentrating while driving for long hours and working unsociable hours can cause fatigue. There are also numerous health and safety risks when driving a bus, which individuals must bear in mind.
- Mental demands – bus drivers can get extremely busy during their working day. They will have to meet timetables and get to stops on time, which can be frustrating, especially if caught in traffic or there are issues with passengers. They will also face numerous stresses, e.g. road closures, abusive and poor drivers, challenging routes and delays. Driving a large vehicle comes with a lot of responsibility, and mistakes can be costly.
- Male-dominated role – the number of women bus drivers is relatively low. However, it should not put off women who want to enter the profession.
- Uniform – most bus drivers need to wear a uniform during their working day, which can get hot and uncomfortable.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and individuals must know what to expect before deciding whether it is suitable. It is physically and mentally demanding, the hours can be unsociable, and there are significant periods of sitting down. The role is also male-dominated. However, there are many positives too, and individuals who become bus drivers enjoy being on the road and having an independent job.
When considering whether to be a bus driver, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the right personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a bus driver
Some of the personal qualities a bus driver requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- A passion for driving.
- Confident, calm, patient, determined and assertive.
- Mature and responsible.
- Friendly and approachable.
- Physically and medically fit, including good eyesight.
- Knowledge of vehicle safety, driving, road safety and traffic laws.
- Knowledge of the road network where travelling.
- Knowledge of drivers’ hours and Working Time Directive regulations.
- Knowledge of vehicle maintenance and inspection.
- Knowledge of health and safety.
- Knowledge of public safety and security.
- Knowledge of transport methods, benefits and costs.
- Knowledge of the Highway Code and road sign meanings.
- Excellent driving skills.
- Communication skills, especially verbal.
- Customer service skills.
- Navigational skills.
- Problem-solving skills.
- Anger management skills.
- Interpersonal skills.
- Time management, planning and organisational skills.
- Being thorough, accurate and having attention to detail.
- The ability to deal with conflict and defuse escalating situations.
- The ability to concentrate and focus while driving for long periods.
- The ability to work alone using own initiative and well with others.
- The ability to adhere to schedules and meet tight deadlines.
- The ability to operate and control various equipment.
- The ability to work under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to be flexible and adapt to change.
- The ability to accept criticism.
- The ability to use IT and software packages for basic tasks, e.g. issuing tickets.
Qualifications and training
There are many different routes to becoming a bus driver. Individuals could apply for an apprenticeship or apply directly. They could also do work experience to help them enter the role.
There is an apprenticeship route to help individuals become bus drivers, e.g. passenger transport driver intermediate apprenticeship, which usually takes around 12 months to complete.
Individuals usually need some GCSEs, including English and maths, or equivalent. They will also need to have a Category B (car driving licence) as a minimum before training.
Opportunities are found on Government’s Apprenticeships, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Indeed.
Some bus and coach companies advertise trainee bus driver roles, and individuals could apply directly via a job site or on their careers websites.
For example (this list is not exhaustive):
- First Bus.
- Arriva Bus UK.
- D&G Bus.
- National Express.
- Oxford Bus Company.
- Lothian Buses.
Companies will put individuals through training and usually pay them during this period. Training usually takes around 6-8 weeks to complete. If individuals pass the training and get their PCV (Passenger Carrying Vehicle) Licence, they will get a job as bus drivers.
There are two categories of PCV licence:
- Category D1 – minibuses with no more than 16 passenger seats and a maximum length of 8 metres.
- Category D – for buses and coaches with more than 8 passenger seats.
Individuals will need a full, current UK driving licence (clean or a maximum number of points) and at least one year’s car driving experience for most trainee roles.
Other bus driver training courses
Numerous private training providers offer bus driving courses. Individuals should look at several companies to ensure they get the best possible price and that it is a good fit. Course lengths and costs vary between providers.
Once an individual has their PCV licence, they can apply for jobs.
Relevant work experience can help individuals become bus drivers, especially in driving practice. A full car (Category B) driving licence allows individuals to drive vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes. They could get experience by driving larger vehicles, such as vans and certain minibuses.
If individuals work for a bus or coach company in another role, their employer may pay for them to do a bus driver training course. It may be possible to shadow bus drivers as driver’s mates to see what the role is like and whether it would be a suitable career choice.
There may be volunteer opportunities where individuals could gain experience in driving different types of vehicles and customer service. There is information on volunteering and local opportunities on Do-IT, NCVO, Volunteering Matters and Indeed.
Training courses to become a baker
Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge. Many colleges and accredited private training providers can provide relevant training courses.
Some examples of courses that may be useful for bus drivers include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Health and safety, e.g. lone working, risk assessment, driving safely, manual handling, work-related violence and workplace stress.
- Spill management, i.e. for fuel.
- First aid.
- COVID-19 awareness.
- Disability awareness.
- Equality and diversity.
- Time management.
- Resilience training.
- Conflict management.
- Complaints handling.
- Customer service skills.
They could also do courses that are specific to driving, vehicles and the law, e.g.:
- Advanced driving.
- Traffic and road safety laws.
- Drivers’ hours and tachographs.
- Defensive driving.
- The Highway Code course.
- Vehicle maintenance.
- Poor weather driving.
Professional bodies, unions and associations, such as the RMT, Unite, Driver and General Union, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT), the Institute of Transport Administration, and others, can advise on reputable training courses. Some also provide events and support to help individuals become bus drivers and give those already in the profession the means to continue their professional development.
The type of training required will depend on what employers are looking for and the type of bus driving. It is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training needed for specific roles and specialisms. Jobs are on websites such as GOV.UK find a job service, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, British Driving Jobs, and bus/coach company careers websites. Recruitment agencies may also offer bus driver jobs.
More relevant training and competence (skills, experience and knowledge) will open up more opportunities. Refresher training is also required as it is a legal requirement and keeps an individual’s knowledge and skills up to date.
Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC)
To drive a bus or coach, individuals need a professional driving qualification called the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC).
To gain this qualification, individuals will need to:
- Be over 18 years old.
- Have a full car (Category B) driving licence (with no points or a maximum).
- Have good English and Maths skills.
- Undergo a medical exam and submit a medical report.
- Get a Category D provisional bus licence with the DVLA.
- Complete PCV theory and practical training.
- Take and pass five tests (depending on previous experience) that make up the Driver CPC to qualify.
After an individual qualifies, they will be sent a Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) card (also known as a driver qualification card or DQC). They can then professionally drive a bus or coach.
They may need further qualifications for driving overseas and transporting particular passengers, e.g. children.
There is further information on driver conduct and licensing in the bus and coach (PCV) industry on GOV.UK.
Once qualified, individuals will have to complete the following to keep their bus licence:
- 35 hours of periodic training every five years.
- Further medical tests every five years (annual for those 65 and over).
- A bus licence renewal every five years if aged 45 or over.
Refresher training providers can be found by searching online or on the Joint Approvals Unit for Periodic Training (JAUPT) website.
Further information can be found on GOV.UK.
Criminal records checks
Some bus drivers must undergo an enhanced criminal record check, e.g. those transporting children or vulnerable persons.
The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:
Where do bus drivers work?
Bus drivers can be employed or contracted to work for many different companies, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Express coach operators.
- Public bus companies, e.g. owned by local authorities.
- Private bus hire companies.
- Private clients, e.g. celebrities and businesses.
- Universities, colleges and schools.
- Tour operators.
- Sightseeing companies.
- Charities and community schemes/trusts.
- Shopping complexes.
- Security companies.
- Football clubs.
- Motor groups.
- Entertainment venues and attractions.
Bus drivers will work mainly in the cabs of their vehicles, e.g. minibuses, coaches, buses, double-deckers, shuttle buses, etc. They may also work in bus depots and outdoors on occasion.
Jobs are available locally, regionally and nationally, and there can be opportunities for bus drivers to work overseas, especially with coach tour operators.
How much do bus drivers earn?
What a bus driver earns will depend on the following:
- The type of buses/coaches they drive.
- Their qualifications and experience.
- Their industry.
- Whether they are employed or work as an agency driver.
- The passengers they transport.
- The hours they work and types of shifts, e.g. nights.
- Where they are based and travel to, e.g. locally, regionally, nationally or internationally.
According to Check-a-Salary (these figures are a guide only):
- The minimum bus driver’s salary in the UK is £21,085.00 per year.
- The average bus driver’s salary in the UK is £26,344.86 per year.
- The maximum bus driver’s salary in the UK is £36,690.00 per year.
In London, some can earn up to £60,000 a year.
Those starting a bus driving career as a trainee earn less, i.e. approximately £18,000 or between £11 and £13 an hour.
As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this. However, it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.
Types of bus driving to specialise in
Bus drivers have many different areas in which to specialise. As mentioned, they can be licensed to drive certain buses, such as Category D1 (minibuses) or D (buses and coaches).
They may decide to drive specific types of bus, e.g.:
- Single deckers.
- Shuttle buses.
- Vintage buses.
- School buses.
- Park and ride buses.
- Electric, hybrid or diesel buses.
There are also different types of jobs they could do, e.g. (this list is not exhaustive):
- Long-distance bus driving – bus drivers drive long distances to transport passengers in the UK nationally or overseas, e.g. National Express coaches.
- Local bus driving – bus drivers drive shorter distances to transport passengers, e.g. villages and towns. They will stop at approved bus stops to pick up and drop off passengers.
- Regional bus driving – bus drivers may have opportunities to drive regionally, meaning they can transport passengers within or across counties.
- Night bus driving – bus drivers transport passengers at night, usually over long distances.
- School bus driving – bus drivers transport school children to and from school. An enhanced DBS is usually required.
- Shuttle bus driving – bus drivers travel back and forth on shorter routes, usually on large sites, such as airports, shopping complexes and attractions.
- Tours or sightseeing bus driving – bus drivers can drive buses, usually open-top double-deckers, that transport passengers around an area to sightsee. Bus drivers may have to give commentary during the journey.
Various bus driving roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. All bus drivers must have excellent driving and customer service skills, transport passengers efficiently and safely and complete their paperwork.
Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what an organisation is looking for and the type of bus driving role an individual wants. Further qualifications and training may be required for some jobs, e.g. transporting children and overseas driving.
Bus drivers not competently carrying out their roles can have serious consequences. Many severe injuries and fatalities have occurred because of collisions between buses and other vehicles.
Poor route planning can also damage infrastructure, e.g. driving under too low bridges and not sticking to timetables can cause customer complaints. Therefore, whatever the type of role, bus drivers must have the necessary competence to carry out their work professionally and safely. They should also know the limits of their competency, i.e. asking for help when something is beyond their expertise.
Vehicles, highways, laws, equipment and technologies are regularly changing. Therefore, bus drivers must keep ahead of the latest developments and changes to carry out their roles effectively, safely and correctly. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives bus drivers the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes, understand their responsibilities, be legally compliant and progress in their careers.
Joining a professional body, union or association can help individuals enhance their skills and overall career. These offer different levels of membership, CPD, support, access to industry contacts and networking events.
There is ample opportunity for career progression for bus drivers. With more qualifications and experience, they can move from minibus driving to bus/coach driving or specialist types of buses. They could also become a transport or depot manager, a bus/coach driving instructor, a service controller or an inspector. Alternatively, they may move from short-distance bus driving to overseas trips or set up their own business.
Knowledge, skills and experience from being a bus driver can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, they could use their driving skills to drive large goods vehicles or operate various plant, such as forklift trucks, dumper trucks or tractors. There may also be opportunities to work for other industries, such as vehicle recovery or emergency services.