How do they do that? Learn to drive a bus

Metro's longest serving bus operator, Donald Dube.

How do they do that? is a  series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

How does Metro teach bus operators to drive?

Metro employs about 4,500 full- and part-time bus operators and all have participated in the agency’s training program that currently includes four weeks of basic skills training, four weeks of classroom study, DMV testing and two weeks driving a bus under the close supervision of an experienced operator. Little known is that all operators must go through rigorous customer service training to learn to defuse difficult and sometimes dangerous situations that occur daily on the streets of L.A.

Before training can begin, potential operators must pass background and physical checks, test at the 10th-grade level in reading comprehension and be at least 21 years old. And they must be hired. Hiring is based on a variety of factors. A good driving record is essential and prior bus driving experience can be helpful. However, it’s thought that bus driving skills can be taught but not everyone can handle the stresses of driving a bus full of passengers in our traffic clogged and complicated city.

Potential operators must be physically able to do the job, including deployment of heavy bus ramps and securing of wheelchairs. They also must be capable of following rules and procedures and work well with passengers — all passengers. Because the job is so much about customer relations, it is emphasized heavily during training.

During the six-week course, trainees learn to drive a bus safely and spend time in the classroom studying such matters as how to make a proper right turn, deal with disruptive or unhappy passengers and recognize an explosive device.

Training also means successfully passing classroom requirements, including all exams and the California Department of Motor Vehicles test. Worth noting: reliability and punctuality are two aspects of training that are stressed. If a starting class time is 6 a.m., arrival at 6:01 a.m. is considered late. Two tardy arrivals and the potential operator is released from training. About 25 to 30 percent of trainees do not pass the course.

New operators start part time and may be assigned to any of Metro’s 11 divisions throughout L.A.County. (There currently are bus operator job openings. Go to Employment Opportunities to find out how to apply.)

Bus operators can enjoy job security as well as advancement opportunities. Metro’s longest serving operator is Donald Dube (see photo above), who has been driving L.A. buses for 53 years. Metro’s highest ranking former bus operator — actually Metro’s highest ranking employee — is Art Leahy, a former operator who now is the agency’s CEO.

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12 replies

  1. As a new operator you have the lowest seniority so you get the routes the other drivers don’t want. $15 an hour to drive down Wilshire, Vermont, or Olympic during the rush hour, with passengers yelling at you and bicyclists, pedestrians, and cars running all over is not overpaid. The suburban operators can pay less because they go through less traffic, or their equipment is smaller. A 60 foot bus is not easy to handle.

  2. @Jose Garcia

    Bus drivers are way too overpaid for the job and skills required. They can easily afford a pay cut to save the agency some money. If they don’t like the cuts they can quit; there are a lot of college educated but unemployed people out there in this tough economy that will settle for a lower pay than $52,000. Bus drivers being paid more than LAPD officers in nonsense.

    • The reality is that at the moment, Metro is hiring only part-time operators from the outside to work between 20-36 hours per week. During their first six weeks of training they earn $11.41 per hour. After six weeks they earn $14.59 per hour, which goes up to $17.95 per hour after 2½ years. It takes about 2-3 years to promote to full-time and the top rate for current full-time operators in $22.44 per hour. It’s challenging to navigate L.A.’s busy and frustrating traffic and to work with the public all day, every day. And, by the way, some Metro operators are not only college educated; they have advanced degrees. College educated people are welcome to apply.

  3. I’d like to know the number of bus drivers who have college degrees or higher because it does not make any sense to me for bus drivers to be paid that much if all they have is a high school diploma.

  4. How about training of Rail Operators? I would like to know what it takes to operate the light rail and Red Line trains. Do you have to be a bus operator first before you move on to rail operations? Do they get paid more? Which job is easier? Bus or Rail operators?

  5. The pay is deserved considering the many gag infested and crime ridden areas many drivers must serve and those thugs who board the buses considering drivers don’t carry guns–or change.

  6. Bus Drivers get paid very little if you have ever gone on a bus they do alot of hard work and do deserve more for what there paid for. They deserve a pay increase.

  7. “test at the 10th-grade level in reading comprehension”

    And yet the average salary of LA bus drivers is $52,000. No wonder our city is broke!

    • I believe that is a reading requirement that is commonplace in many different types of jobs. Testing at that level doesn’t mean that someone didn’t graduate high school or isn’t intelligent.

      As for the average salary, I would hardly characterize that as a king’s ransom. Operating a bus for many hours a day is hardly an easy job. It is, in fact, a very difficult one involving the safety of riders on the bus and the safety of others who must share the street with a bus.

      Finally, Metro is a county agency. The city has its own bus system — the DASH buses.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source