One sign that the motorcoach industry is rebounding from the devastation of the pandemic is that its workforce grew by more than one-third last year compared to a year earlier.
A new federal report found that employment in the charter bus industry increased 37% in 2022, with the largest percentage increases among cleaners and mechanics. The number of workers is still down 29% compared to pre-COVID employment, which is not surprising considering that FMCSA data shows the industry has lost half of its companies.
The data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which includes the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics program, produces employment and wage estimates annually for about 830 occupations. Some of the data relates to bus drivers generally, while other data is specific to the charter bus industry.
Cleaning crews grew the most
Drilling into the data shows an increase of 20,370 workers in the charter bus industry. By percentage, the biggest increase was for cleaners of vehicles, 61.5%. The next biggest gains were among bus and truck mechanics, with more than a 56% increase. Dispatchers and sales representatives accounted for 37% and 38%, respectively. Office and operation managers tied with drivers, which were added at a rate of around 27%, but those numbers are skewed by the fact that both groups represent the biggest groups of the industry’s workforce. Drivers account for nearly half of the workforce.
Still, last year’s gains don’t return the industry to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019. During the pandemic, more than half the operators were forced to close and only a handful of them have returned. The charter bus industry workforce continues to be down nearly 30%. Drivers and dispatchers are down roughly 41%, followed by cleaners and sales reps at a loss of 35%. Office and administrative support is down 29%, and mechanics are down by 18%. Only general and operations managers were up, by a whopping 65%.
The labor shortage has played a role in driving up wages. In the last year, the industry’s median hourly wage rose 12% to $20.66. The biggest boost, by percentage, went to bus cleaners, nearly 15% for a wage of $16.15. Sales reps saw the next biggest jump, nearly 14% to $30.05, followed by 12% for customer service to $20.41. The rest of the categories saw single-digit growth. Pay rates increased 7% for managers to $42.64, about 6% for drivers to $19.21 and mechanics to $24.46. Dispatchers had the lowest increase, less than 2% to $24.46.
The data gives a snapshot of the industry and can be helpful for motorcoach companies in benchmarking data, says UMA CEO & President Scott Michael, who gave a presentation on the BLS report at the April 27 UMA Town Hall.
“Certainly, some parts of the country have different wage levels than others, so we have to understand that when we’re looking at the data, but it’s always good to be able to see what the numbers look like and see what kinds of changes we’re seeing year to year as well,” Michael said.
UMA Members can click here to see Michael’s presentation.