Bus operator training

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A Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District driver trains on an articulated bus. Source: Oran Viriyincy


Once an agency has recruited drivers, these new drivers need to be trained. Most new transit hires are inexperienced in public transit operations, so transit agencies must be prepared to provide adequate instruction. Current employees can also benefit from continuing education programs, especially when new equipment is introduced to a fleet. A good training program is important for employee retention.

New Hires

New operator training varies greatly from agency to agency. Some agencies may be able to individually tailor training programs to the experience of the new hire, but many agencies hire trainees in groups in which everyone must pass through the same basic training program. An average training program is approximately 32 days.[1] Agencies with numerous routes find they can reduce initial training time by focusing on the routes which the applicant is most likely to drive initially, introducing other routes over time. Small systems may wish or need to train new employees on every route before releasing them to work.

Classroom Versus Road Training

Agencies should be aware of the trade-off between in-class and in-bus training time. While classroom and book- or video-based training is necessary to some extent, new hires can become disinterested and frustrated with perceived delays in getting on the road. All agencies spend a large portion of training on out-of-service buses, and most include in-service training as part of their program. Some agencies may also use various forms of simulators. While applicants may come in with varying needs for driving skills, many agency managers have cautioned that customer service skills are the most important portion of new operator training.

Computer, video or paper-based training can be effective for reinforcing agency policy, rules and regulations.

On-bus training often includes a mix of agency professional training staff and peer-led operator training. Some agencies may have operator-led training guided by a professional trainer, and should take care that the operators providing training are doing so in accordance with agency policy and expectations. Techniques can include incentives for becoming a peer trainer and requirements to uphold certain expectations to maintain that status. Peer training can include a mentorship program, which may be helpful in improving retention and transitioning a new hire into the regular workforce.

Training Tools

The Transportation Safety Institute (TSI) provides a train-the-trainer certification program for bus and paratransit operator training.

Refresher training

Relatively few agencies include a regular refresher training program as part of their work environment. Refresher training programs may be required by some states. Opportunities exist for refresher training to involve or be led by experienced operators who have demonstrated exemplary work.

Further Reading

American Public Transit Association. (2007). "Recommended Practice for Transit Bus Operator Training."

This guide presents industry-developed best practices on bus operator training.


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