Practitioner's Guide to Bus Operator Workforce Management

Bus operators represent the largest employee group for public transit agencies that provide bus services and for most multimodal transit agencies. Bus operators play a major role in the delivery of public transit, interface daily with customers, and significantly affect the quality of transit service and consumer satisfaction. Consequently, comprehensive and effective bus operator workforce management is essential for transit agencies. Transit agencies throughout the United States, regardless of size, will benefit from improving aspects of bus operator workforce management from pre-employment to retirement. Many transit agencies face challenges attracting new bus operators. The Community Transportation Association of America recently reported that the most pressing issue facing its members is driver recruitment and retention. Strong and weak economies, competing job opportunities, real estate prices, rental apartment availability, opioid addiction and other drug use are among the local and national factors that create challenges pertaining to bus operator workforce management, including recruitment, hiring, retention, and compensation. In tight labor markets bus operator attrition and shortages contribute to missed trips and unreliable transit service that can start a downward spiral in ridership and harm the economic sustainability of a transit agency. Excess supply of labor in a weak economy is often relatively short-lived, leading to turn-over, as highly qualified and trained bus operators have other job opportunities with better pay and more desirable work schedules. Training and mentoring bus operators, especially new hires, are critical to the safety of passengers, pedestrians, motorized vehicles and their occupants, and the operators of non-motorized vehicles, including bicycles and scooters. Many methods for training, re-training, and mentoring bus operators exist that vary in effectiveness, cost, and appropriateness for different communities. Transit agencies need an up-to-date resource that addresses training and mentoring methods as elements of effective bus operator work force management. Traditional practices of many transit agencies regarding bus operator compensation and working conditions can negatively affect bus operator retention and job satisfaction. Pay rates and work schedules are typically dominated by seniority, leading to long work days, in particular for those with shorter tenures. Driving vehicles that are not ergonomically designed, on routes and schedules that do not accommodate breaks, is unhealthy and unsafe for bus operators. Changing these work force management practices requires important trade-offs and decision-making that should be based on good information. There is limited research-based literature that addresses bus operator workforce management. Most of the resources have a narrow scope and audience, and are dated. The public transit industry needs a comprehensive, evidence-based, up-to-date guide that addresses all aspects of workforce management for bus operators that will serve transit agencies of all sizes throughout the United States. The guide will help transit agencies make more informed and better decisions pertaining to bus operator workforce management. The objective of this research is to develop a comprehensive, evidenced-based guide for bus operator workforce management from pre-employment through retirement. The guide should present best practices and innovative practices that enhance and sustain public transit and support bus operators who provide fixed-route, flexible-route, and on-demand services. The guide should, at a minimum, address: (1) Workforce needs assessment. There are various methods for calculating the number of bus operators required to provide transit services, reflecting the optimal mix of full and part-time (if applicable) operators, schedule adherence, season, absenteeism, and overtime. (2) Recruitment. Transit agencies must consider how to position themselves as competitive employers in their local labor market to attract prospective bus operator candidates. Strategies may change based on different economic and labor market conditions. (3) Selection and on-boarding of qualified bus operators. There are many strategies that have been used to screen and hire bus operators. The effectiveness of the strategies may vary for communities and transit agencies with different characteristics. (4) Training and mentoring for bus operators should focus on safety and customer interface, and ensure operator development and retention. The alternative approaches for training and mentoring bus operators have different strengths and weaknesses that must be carefully weighed since they are critical to transit performance and require significant resources. (5) Compensation including pay and benefits for bus operators reflects competition for labor in the local market, as well as the financial condition of the transit agency. (6) Working conditions for bus operators are multifaceted including vehicles and work stations that should be safe, well-designed, and in good condition, work schedules, including breaks (i.e., timing and locations) that support bus operator health and safety, and child care, and other needed amenities and services. (7) Retention and motivation of bus operators reflect work place culture, including effective leadership, appropriate management practices, and respect for employees. Striving to retain and motivate bus operators may require regular rewards, recognition, and other supportive feedback for effective bus operators.


  • English


  • Status: Proposed
  • Funding: $200000
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project F-28

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Transit Cooperative Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC    20001

    Federal Transit Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Project Managers:

    Schwager, Dianne

  • Start Date: 20201101
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 0

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01738833
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project F-28
  • Files: TRB, RiP
  • Created Date: May 4 2020 3:32PM