Bus drivers spend a lot of time behind the wheel of their buses. Whether it’s a city transit bus, a school bus or a coach bus, this little space of theirs is their office.
But they definitely don’t keep banker’s hours. Motorcoach drivers in the U.S. can spend up to 15 hours a day or up to 70 hours a week in the cockpit of a motor coach, logging thousands of miles.
So after all they go through together, it’s not surprising that coach bus drivers tend to form a bond with these giant pieces of equipment.
The question is, are coach bus drivers assigned their own bus? The answer is … It depends.
Let’s look at why some motorcoach companies assign their drivers buses and some don’t, and the advantages of each choice.
Matching the buses to trips, not the drivers
At Peoria Charter, the company I work at, drivers are typically not assigned their own coach. On our line run side, we try to assign a bus to each route, and we usually don’t change them unless a bus needs to be taken out of service for repairs or maintenance.
So if a driver is always driving that particular route, they may feel as if they have their own bus. But if that driver drives a different route or goes on a charter trip, they may find themselves on a different bus.
For our charter side, the fleet coordinator works with our technicians and dispatch to choose what coach is going on what trip. Then a driver will be assigned to the trip and bus.
The selection of a bus usually depends on the distance and duration of the trip as well as the needs of the client. For example, ff the client is a track team that has lots of long pole vault poles, it would be better to assign a coach with an open-frame luggage bay so the poles will fit through the bays rather than, say, a Prevost, which typically has closed-frame box luggage bays where anything really long won’t fit.
Also, newer model buses tend to be placed on long-distance and long-duration trips, whereas our older equipment is usually relegated to shorter or shuttle-type trips.
Working with hours of service
But the practice of not assigning drivers permanently to a specific bus has other benefits.
One is working with limitations on hours of service, where a driver can only drive up to 10 hours a day but a bus can keep going and going.
For trips longer than 10 hours, a driver will have to go off duty at some point. Usually, we will have them switch out with another driver who had driven a company van to the switch-out point the day before, so the passengers can keep going without having to stay at a hotel and wait for the driver to rest and reset their hours.
Also, if a bus is assigned exclusively to a driver, when the driver is not working, the bus is just sitting. That is bad for the company, especially if it hires a lot of part-time drivers. At half a million dollars or more for a coach bus, you don’t want your buses sitting on the lot because the driver has taken a week off.
On the flip side, if a bus goes down for maintenance, the driver assigned to it won’t be happy if they aren’t assigned any work while the technicians are waiting a few weeks on a part needed to repair the coach.
Overall, for companies with larger fleets that have lots of trips, the logistics are easier when a driver is not assigned to a particular bus. If you look at any airline or public transit agency with large fleets and high volumes of trips, neither the pilots or drivers are permanently assigned to a plane or bus. The pilots or drivers are essentially equipment movers, and doing it this way saves the company a lot of downtime for its fleet.
Advantages to driver-bus teams
Many motorcoach companies do assign their drivers their own buses. I used to drive for a smaller coach bus company back in the day called Bales Unlimited. Bill Bales, the owner, operated a fleet of eight coaches at the time, and he assigned his full-timers their own bus.
The key there is “full-timers.” Companies that assign coaches permanently to drivers typically only hire full-time drivers or only assign full-time drivers their own bus. As said earlier, a part-time driver’s schedule will cause too much sitting for a coach bus, costing the company a lot of money.
But these companies that believe in dedicating a driver to a bus enjoy many benefits from it.
For one, a driver assigned to their own bus takes ownership of it, takes better care of it and gets to know it better. When you spend 70 hours a week driving a vehicle, you learn what sounds or characteristics it should and should not have. This familiarity will save the company money on repairs and preventative maintenance.
Another is that if a bus is always driven by the same person, it’s easier for the maintenance department to detect poor or problematic driving habits. For example, if a bus is constantly getting really poor fuel mileage, the maintenance team can easily detect if the driver has a lead foot and constantly flooring it on acceleration. If a bus is constantly coming back with tire wall damage, it’s safe to say the driver assigned to it is constantly curbing it on turns or running against curb sides, indicating that maybe more training is needed.
For companies with frequent long-distance trips, it makes it easier to know what driver is where, because the bus number and driver names are always associated with each other. This makes better situational awareness for those handling logistics back at base.
A bus with a designated driver will definitely make it easier for tracking lost and found items. When a passenger calls in to see if anyone has found a lost cell phone, you won’t have to track down everyone who has driven the bus in the last week to ask if they have seen it.
There is also a certain pride in knowing that this bus is yours and yours only. Like a captain in command of a ship, coach bus drivers can become proud and protective of a coach assigned to them. This pride will definitely show when handling clients and passengers.
About six years ago, Peoria Charter purchased a bus from a company that was downsizing, and when we got the bus, the driver came with it. He started driving for us because he wanted to stay with his coach.
Assigning drivers their own bus also helps the company incentivize good performance by assigning their safest and best-performing drivers with newer buses that the company adds to its fleet. Or some drivers may prefer a certain make or model of coach, and if they perform well, a company can reward the driver with their dream coach.
If you drive or work for a coach bus company, please let us know whether or not your company assigns buses to its drivers and let us know what you like or don’t like about it. I would love to hear everyone else’s perspectives on this.
Here’s what some of you had to say about my take on why some motorcoach companies assign their drivers buses and some don’t, and the advantages of each choice.