To find good drivers, we need to make it ‘worth it’

“I feel terrible. I’m going to have to fire a customer.”

My buddy was having a bad day with an operator who had bought a bus from him. There had been a few genuine problems, and they’d been fixed, but the client seemed determined not to be satisfied.

Dave Millhouser

He’d called to sorta share the pain, and said he’d told the customer, “I’m going to do everything I can to make you happy with this bus, but please buy your next one from somebody else.”

Dealing with this customer was no longer worth it, the benefits to his company outweighed by all the nonsense.

If you think this is about marketing — gotcha.

Off and on in recent years we’ve faced a shortage of qualified drivers. Market forces make it difficult to pay as well as we’d like, and driving a motorcoach is not generally perceived as a high-status career.

What we do offer is the chance to go to neat places, see things and meet people — a bit of adventure with no two days alike.

Flexible hours make charter driving a good part-time or second job. We have added a lot of older folks to our pool of drivers.

One problem is that, as they are aging out, we aren’t able to replace them. We are not alone.

In September 2016, Time magazine reported that in 2015, the work rate (or employment-to-population ratio) for American males ages 25 to 54 was slightly lower than it had been in 1940, at the tail end of the Great Depression.

The article said that if we were back at 1965 levels today, nearly 10 million additional men would have paying jobs.

“The collapse of male work is due almost entirely to a flight out of the labor force — and that flight has on the whole been voluntary,” Time wrote.

If I understand this correctly, huge numbers of people are not working because, in their minds, the available jobs are not worth the effort involved.

In addition to relatively low pay for a job that involves huge responsibility, there are other factors prospective motorcoach drivers consider in deciding if a job is “worth it,” with new issues coming over the horizon.

There are both direct and indirect regulatory burdens. In addition to licensing and regular medical checkups they need to keep current, drug test programs can be inconvenient, with the occasional false-positive thrown in. Regulators are looking at additional disqualifying medical conditions, such as sleep apnea.

Inspections are often conducted by law enforcement personnel intent on finding some infraction to cite. Some of those fines, often for obscure and insignificant violations, come out of the driver’s pocket.

You know, like the driver who was ticketed because, in the mind of an inspector, his lavatory wasn’t clean enough.

In the case of part-timers, they can be required to log hours spent at another job. In some jurisdictions there are tales of criminalizing what may just be bad luck, with arrests occasionally coming before a completed investigation.

At least one coach driver in a major Northeastern city spent a night in jail for striking a pedestrian who was later determined to be at fault.

I once received a ticket from an Oregon state trooper for going 65 in a 65-mph zone. After all, the sign said the truck limit was 55.

It seems that in Oregon a bus was a truck, and I was supposed to know that. Motorcoach drivers are often in foreign jurisdictions, and technically should know all the laws, but it’s a complicated world.

If you’re middle aged, there are additional risks. I consider myself to be middle aged, although an unkind friend pointed out that I’d have to live to 140 for that to be true,

Over the years I’ve accumulated some “stuff” that could be at risk if there was legal action in the event of my involvement in an accident. I’m unlikely to take a bus-driving job any time soon. (I HEAR you breathing a sigh of relief.)

You can see where this is going. At what point does someone considering bus driving decide it’s just not worth it, and either retires or takes other work?

No one thing is a deal breaker, but the cumulative load can be. Assuming the Time article is accurate, we aren’t alone in this situation. Keep piling straw on a camel’s back and it will break.

Couple all this with an improving economy that creates alternative jobs and it’s not surprising that good drivers are hard to find.

It’s no fun writing this (and, as usual, I have few answers), but we need to understand what is legitimately on the minds of drivers.

What kind of incentives and relief from unreasonable burdens will make this job “worth it” to the quality people we need to drive our coaches?

Dave Millhouser is a bus-industry marketing consultant and freelance writer. Contact him by email at



Share this post