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Local Transit Operator Job Description, Career as a Local Transit Operator, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training License plus training

Salary Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Local transit operators run buses, subways, and, in some metropolitan areas, trolleys. They provide dependable transportation on fixed schedules. Some jurisdictions run their own transit systems, so operators work for government agencies. In many places, however, they work for private companies that have contracts with local government.

At the beginning of each shift, bus drivers check their vehicles for proper maintenance and pick up forms for refunds and transfers. Along their routes they gather fares from passengers—or, in areas where fares are handled electronically, see that passengers have paid the correct amount—and answer questions about stops and timetables.

Trolley drivers have many of the same duties. While few traditional trolleys are still in service, some cities have trackless trolleys, which are buses that run on electricity from overhead wires. Trolley operators also collect fares, give transfers, and answer questions.

Bus and trolley operators drive in street traffic. They obey the same laws that drivers of cars and trucks do. Operators fill out daily work reports, detailing any schedule delays, mechanical problems, or accidents.

Subways are trains that run on rails through tunnels under cities, on the surface, or on elevated tracks. While most subways are guided by computer systems, they usually have two operators on board. Drivers ride in the front of the first car, where they can start and stop the trains and watch for signals and lights along their routes. Conductors ride near the center of trains in small rooms with windows that allow them to observe passengers getting on and off. They open and close the doors and announce the stops over loudspeakers. Fares are collected and most information is provided at stations, not on the trains.

Most local transit operators work in cities, running public buses, subways, and trolleys. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.)

Education and Training Requirements

For most jobs, operators must be at least twenty-one years of age; be able to communicate well; and have good hearing and eyesight. Employers prefer applicants who have high school diplomas or the equivalent—educational requirements vary—and driving experience. Good driving records are essential. In most states transit operators must have commercial licenses, which require both written and skills tests.

Training may last several weeks. Classroom work usually covers bus and train operation, safety regulations, and company procedures. During practical instruction, beginning operators first observe more experienced workers and then make runs without passengers under close supervision.

At the end of the training period, most companies give both written and operating tests. Beginners may get routes as soon as they pass the tests. However, in many places operators are first put on an "extra list," which allows them to work when experienced workers are sick or on vacation.

Getting the Job

Job seekers can contact transit companies directly. State and private employment services, labor unions, Internet job sites, and newspaper classified ads can provide employment leads.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Many operators become drivers in other fields. Local bus drivers, for example, may become intercity bus drivers or long-haul truck drivers. Some operators become dispatchers or take on other supervisory roles.

Employment of local transit operators in most areas is expected to be good through 2014. Many cities are upgrading public transportation to increase rider-ship, which should mean more opportunities for operators. Openings occur each year when workers retire or leave the field. Because of the number of applicants, competition for full-time jobs can be stiff.

Working Conditions

Most local transit operators work forty-hour weeks, often in rotating shifts. Night, weekend, and holiday work may be necessary. Operators generally get extra pay for overtime work. Some operators work "swing shifts," which require several hours of work, followed by long breaks and then more work. This system puts extra vehicles in service during peak transit hours.

Transit operators must be patient, for they deal with people during the busiest times of the day, when tempers are likely to be short. Bus and trolley operators must drive in rain and snow and through traffic jams.

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings vary widely, depending on the size of the city, experience, and level of responsibility. In 2004 the median wage for all bus drivers was $13.49 per hour. Subway and trolley operators earned a median wage of $23.70 per hour.

Where to Go for More Information

Amalgamated Transit Union
5025 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20016-4139
(202) 537-1645

American Public Transit Association
1666 K St. NW, Ste. 1100
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 496-4800

Transport Workers Union of America
1700 Broadway
New York, NY 10019
(212) 259-4900

Benefits usually include health insurance, paid vacation and sick days, and retirement plans. Most local transit operators belong to unions.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesTransportation & Logistics