Bus Operator Workforce Management: Practitioner’s Guide

This report, produced by the Eno Center for Transportation, International Transportation Learning Center (ITLC), and Huber & Associates, is a practitioner’s guide that provides recommendations and resources enabling transit agencies to better assess, plan, and implement their operator workforce management programs. A link to a related TRB webinar is also included.

Transit Cooperative Research Program
August 2023

Contributor(s): National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Transportation Research BoardTransit Cooperative Research Program; Robert Puentes; Philip Plotch; Brianne Eby; Paul Lewis; Karitsa Holdzkom; Xinge Wang; Douglas Nevins; Kenyon Corbett; Melissa Huber


People First

This report from TransitCenter describes the current transit industry workforce shortage and provides recommendations for agency leadership, policy makers, and community advocates to help address the issue, including creating a robust human resources department, as well as strategies to address recruitment, training, and retention.

July 2023

Driver Recruitment and Retention Strategies

This blog post from the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center discusses recruitment and retention strategies for transit agencies, particularly in regard to older and disabled workers in the face of industry-wide labor shortages. It includes examples of successful partnerships and effective mentoring programs.

National Aging and Disability Transportation Center
July 2023

Procedures for Transportation Workplace Drug and Alcohol Testing Programs: Addition of Oral Fluid Specimen Testing for Drugs

This rule amends the U.S. Department of Transportation’s regulated industry drug testing program to include oral fluid testing. This additional methodology for drug testing will give employers a choice that will help combat employee cheating on urine drug tests and provide a less intrusive means of achieving the safety goals of the program.

Department of Transportation
May 2023

Engaging Frontline Employees in Adopting New Transit Technologies

The purpose of this guidebook, made in collaboration with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), is to help management staff in the US transit industry engage frontline employees as they transition into a new era of transit technologies. The guidebook considers broader issues such as workforce shortages, provides advice and information on training frontline employees on new transit technologies, and discusses the usefulness of apprenticeships.

National Center for Applied Transit Technology
April 2023

Workforce Mini-Guides

These six workforce development mini-guides are designed to help develop and implement successful strategies to address the critical workforce shortages seen across the public transportation industry. They cover these topics: advancing awareness of transit careers; creating internships and apprenticeships; recruiting and hiring transit workers; serving the underserved in the workforce; onboarding, training, and retaining workers; and building a transit curriculum.

American Public Transportation Association
April 2023

An October 2022 survey conducted by APTA revealed that 96 percent of transit agencies of all sizes are experiencing workforce challenges, and 84 percent said these shortages are impacting their ability to provide service. APTA developed these mini-guides building on their 2021 Transit Workforce Readiness Guide and combining industry insights and stories, case studies, lessons learned, and best practices.


Bus Operators—New Strategies for Maintaining the Workforce

This webinar discusses the ideas, best practices, and resources that will enable transit agencies to better plan, implement, and assess their operator workforce management programs as described in the Bus Operator Workforce Management: Practitioner’s Guide. Presenters discussed workforce needs assessment, recruitment, selection and on-boarding, training, mentoring, and retention and motivation.

Transit Cooperative Research Program
March 2023

Webinar agenda and presenters

  1. Bus operator training and retention – Xinge Wang, International Transportation Learning Center
  2. Lessons from Florida – Trish Collins, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority
  3. Lessons from the Midwest – George F. Fields, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority
  4. Question and answer session moderated by Robert Puentes, Eno Center for Transportation


Transit Workforce Shortage: Synthesis Report and Toolkit

The Transit Workforce Shortage Study builds a framework for APTA, its members, and its partner organizations to better understand the workforce shortage’s causes and provides best practices for recruiting, hiring, and retaining transit operations workers.

American Public Transportation Association
March 2023

APTA’s Transit Workforce Shortage Study combines information from a survey of public transit workers and interviews with public transportation agencies to provide insight into ways to address the national shortage of transit workers. The report provides information on actions agencies have taken to address the workforce shortage, and the toolkit provides step-by-step answers to workforce shortage scenarios agencies are facing every day.

This report builds on findings from the first interim report.


Workforce Development and Driver Shortages in Small Urban and Rural Transit

This report presents a national survey of small urban and rural transit managers to determine current workforce development practices. The survey results outline driver shortages and related issues, including an aging workforce, disruptions in service, and methods of alleviating the shortage.

Small Urban and Rural Center on Mobility
March 2023

Making Connections 2022 – Meeting Industry Needs: Feedback Session on FTA’s Draft Strategic Workforce Development Plan

Transit Workforce Center & Federal Transit Administration
December 2022

Feedback collected during this session and in subsequent engagements informed the development of FTA’s National Transit Workforce Development Strategic Plan 2023 to 2028, which has since been released.

  • Mary Leary: Acting Associate Administrator for Research, Demonstration and Innovation – Federal Transit Administration

This handout was shared with participants in a feedback session held during TWC’s Making Connections 2022 transit workforce conference in December, 2022.


Transit Workforce Shortage: Root Causes, Potential Solutions, and the Road Ahead

American Public Transportation Association
October 2022

Public transit providers across North America face a shortage of operators and mechanics during a period of economic instability and reshuffling exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, agencies’ ability to respond to the worker shortage has been hampered by inadequate information about its causes and effects. The Transit Workforce Shortage Study builds a framework for APTA, its members, and its partner organizations to better understand the workforce shortage’s causes and provides best practices for recruiting, hiring, and retaining transit operations workers. The study is comprised of two phases. This document, the Interim Findings Report, synthesizes the findings from Phase 1, which included a survey of transit agencies and background research into the macro causes of the shortage.

This report was followed by a full synthesis report and toolkit.


Recruiting and Retaining the Best: Transit Workforce Best Practices

This blog post from Transportation for America details successful strategies and best practices employed by transit agencies to empower their operator and maintenance workforces.

Transportation for America
September 2022

Strategic Workforce Planning in Transit: Recruiting and Developing Today’s Transit Workforce

This is the second in the Transit Workforce Center’s webinar series on strategic workforce development planning in transit. TWC’s first webinar examined workforce development for the incumbent workforce. This second webinar focuses on how transit agencies and partner organizations are working to meet the significant recruitment challenges across the country and how to best turn these challenges into opportunities to reach, attract, and retain a diverse workforce. Two transit agencies and their labor partners discuss their innovative outreach and recruitment programs, including mentoring, pre-apprenticeships, and community college partnerships, followed by a presentation from a national organization leader who has coordinated cross-sectoral recruitment initiatives with agencies across the U.S.

Transit Workforce Center
June 2022

Linked below are a video recording of the webinar, the associated slides, and a webpage where all past TWC webinars are available.


Bus Driver Recruitment and Retention in Challenging Times

Transit Workforce Center
April 2022

While the U.S. public transportation industry has long had a significant bus operator shortage, it has been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic.  COVID-19 has not only exacerbated existing trends, but also introduced new labor market dynamics.  This brief describes overall workforce trends for bus operators, obstacles to recruitment, and challenges for workforce retention, to help inform efforts to recruit more drivers nationwide.

Overall workforce trends

According to 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, there are 162,850 bus operators nationally.  Federal government projections indicate strong growth for bus operators; BLS estimates the occupation will grow “much faster than average (15 percent or higher).”[1]  To keep up with growth and make up for retirements and turnover, the industry will need to recruit scores of new workers.  BLS reported an annual average of 24,600 projected bus operator job openings for 2020 to 2030.[2]

According to BLS, annual wages for the occupation were $45,900 in 2020, which was higher than the national median of $41,950.[3]  Despite having a reputation for paying relatively well and providing robust benefits,[4], [5]  transit agencies have faced significant challenges to recruit workers in sufficient numbers to meet the growing demand.  The rise of COVID and the omicron variant have created a “labor crisis” in transit, leading Houston Metro to offer bonuses of $4,000 for new drivers, and NYC to try to lure workers out of retirement, for example.[6]

Demographic challenges

One major demographic challenge contributing to the current operator shortage is the disproportionately older bus operator workforce.  As Figure 1 on the next page shows, the median age of U.S. workers was 42.2 years in 2021, and 42.8 years in transportation and warehousing.  For the bus service and urban transit industry, it was 52.7, which is substantially higher than both the nationwide median age for workers and the median age for other subsectors within transportation and warehousing, such as air or rail transportation.[7] The higher median age of urban transit workers is largely attributable to the older age of bus drivers (median 53.3 years)[8], who constitute 60 percent of the workforce[9]. A large percentage of workers are expected to retire in the coming years.[10], [11]

COVID-related health and safety issues

Figure 1. 2021 Median Age of Workers for Selected Transportation Sectors

As frontline workers, bus operators risk exposure to COVID-19, and serious health consequences, even death.  For example, in New York City, 136 MTA operators died around the start of the pandemic.[12]  As of December 2021, more than 2,000 COVID cases have been reported among WMATA workers since the pandemic began; seven of the workers died.  According to CTAA, some member agencies have experienced as many as 40 percent of their operators absent from work due to sickness.[13]  COVID-related factors have resulted in bus operator shortages and service cuts,[14] a trend which has occurred in transit systems nationwide.  In addition, some drivers have quit due to fears about the virus or been terminated due to failure to comply with vaccination and testing policies.[15]

Pre-existing labor market dynamics

The pandemic has also exacerbated existing workforce challenges, such as competition for pay.  Stakeholders interviewed for a GAO study reported that other industries which hire workers with similar levels of education, including fast food, may attract workers instead of transit, especially in rural areas or areas with low unemployment.[16]  When the economy is strong, construction also tends to attract workers who might otherwise work in transit.  Furthermore, some workers leave the transit industry once they have earned their CDL.[17]

CDL and new requirements

Transit bus drivers are generally required to hold Class B Commercial Drivers’ Licenses and passenger (P) endorsements. Due to the high cost of self-funding CDL training, employer-sponsored training programs in which costs are covered, such as those run by transit agencies, are an attractive option for job seekers. However, the potential exists for trainees to pursue employment in commercial driving or another sector after completing a transit-oriented training program.[18]  This dynamic is particularly challenging given concurrent shortages of truck and school bus drivers.[19]

Individuals are required to hold a standard driver’s license to qualify for a commercial learners’ permit, which in turn is needed to pursue CDL training.[20] These requirements may impact recruitment of young people, as rates of driver’s license attainment for 18–24 year-olds have decreased slightly in recent decades and may be lower during recessionary periods and among minority populations and residents of cities.[21]

Regulatory changes impacting entry level driver training (ELDT) may also affect agencies’ ability to fill positions. As of February 7, 2022, the FMCSA has started enforcing universal training standards for entry level driver training and maintaining a database of qualified providers (the Training Provider Registry).[22] Professional organizations representing transit agencies such as APTA and CTAA have expressed concern about these additional regulatory requirements. Agency contacts have also identified challenges related to requirements around license renewal, medical fitness testing, the availability of training during the pandemic and delays with local DMVs processing CDL application due to pandemic staff shortages. FMCSA has granted waivers around certain other CDL requirements during the pandemic, and recently announced a grant to support state capacity for CDL licensing, though the emphasis appears to be on commercial trucking. [23], [24]

Assaults against drivers

Driver safety has been a persistent problem.  Assaults against drivers and altercations with passengers have been well-publicized in communities that transit serves.[25], [26]A 2015 Monthly Labor Review article identified violence as a key challenge facing drivers, with examples including a 2012 attack with rocks in Washington, DC and a 2013 shooting in Seattle.[27] More recently, drivers have reported increased stress during the pandemic and face threats including violence related to passenger non-compliance with mask mandates, among other issues.  Such incidents have deterred potential applicants from considering a transit driving career and contributed to early retirements.[28]

Lack of interest from younger generations

Younger workers have different expectations about the workplace, which has made it challenging for agencies to recruit them.  Younger workers tend to value flexible schedules, yet operators must often work on holidays and weekends, especially when they first start in the field.  New hires in general may not find this attractive.[29]

Advances in technology­­­

Advances in technology present challenges to recruitment and retention.  ­­The rise of automation and apps requires drivers to possess technical knowledge to operate newer buses and assist customers; this means there is a relatively small pool of qualified workers.  Additional and new types of training are needed for both incumbent and new workers to adapt. Furthermore, drivers report feeling stress from being monitored more often by cameras and tracking technology.[30], [31]

Stress and burn-out

Finally, being a bus operator is a highly stressful occupation.  Drivers must operate large vehicles on congested city streets on tight time schedules.[32]  They work relatively long hours with infrequent breaks.[33]  As discussed earlier, technological advances have contributed to worker stress as well.  Operators also experience burn-out due to the stress of dealing with passengers, who may ignore COVID safety rules,[34] or be unruly or violent.


Bus operators have been in short supply for years, and this problem has been magnified by COVID-19.  An aging workforce and labor exits related to COVID have largely contributed to the shortage. Top obstacles to recruitment and retention include pandemic-related health and safety issues, pre-existing labor market dynamics including competition over pay, CDL requirements, assaults against drivers, and lack of interest from younger generations.  Other contributing factors include advances in technology, perceptions of inflexibility, and stress.  To address these workforce recruitment and retention issues for bus operators, key stakeholders from management and labor should keep these data and trends in mind.

Bus Operator Recruitment Campaign

The Transit Workforce Center (TWC) is currently developing a national campaign in coordination with the FTA, along with key labor and industry partners, to effectively address the national bus operator shortage. The TWC is preparing to create a toolkit of materials designed to be adapted by agencies and labor union locals that will consist of templates for commercial scripts, postcard mailers, exhibit banners, talking points for public meetings, social media postings, informational video scripts, and letters of introduction. If any organization has existing models that should be incorporated into these plans, please contact Senior Communications Specialist David Stephen at

Contributing Authors: Benjamin Kreider (Consultant); Xinge Wang; Douglas Nevins

[1] Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020.  53-3052 Bus Drivers, Transit and Intercity.

[2] Bureau of Labor Statistics. Table 1.7: Occupational projections, 2020–30, and worker characteristics, 2020.

[3] Summary Report for: 53-3052.00 – Bus Drivers, Transit and Intercity.  O*Net Online.

[4] Shared-Use Mobility Center. “Case Study: Managing the Labor Shortage at Transit Agencies.” November 5, 2021.

[5] Laura Bliss. “There’s a Bus Driver Shortage. And No Wonder.” Bloomberg City Lab. June 28, 2018.

[6] Eli Rosenberg.  “Labor shortages are hampering public transportation systems, challenging the recovery of city life.” Washington Post.  December 28, 2021.

[7]Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Table18b: Employed persons by detailed industry and age.

[8] Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table 11b: Employed persons by detailed occupation and age, 2020.

[9] Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Employment Matrix.

[10] Jack Clark.  Testimony before the House Transportation Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways.  March 13, 2019.

[11] Robert Puentes et al. “Practitioner’s Guide to Bus Operator Workforce Management.”  Transportation Research Board of The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  November, 2021. Unpublished interim report.

[12] Benito Perez.  “After COVID, who’s driving the bus?”  Transportation For America.  Nov 2, 2021.

[13] Justin George.  “Omicron deepens bus driver shortage, frustrating passengers as transit agencies pare back service.”  Washington Post.  January 15, 2022.

[14]  Justin George.  “Bus operator shortage due to covid prompts Metro to reduce bus service.”  Washington Post. December 23, 2021.

[15] “MARTA Making Temporary Service Modifications to Address Bus Operator Shortage.”  Metro Magazine  November 12, 2021.

[16] US Government Accountability Office. “Transit Workforce Development – Improved Strategic Planning Practices Could Enhance FTA Efforts.” GAO-19-2090. March 2019.  P. 15.

[17] Puentes et al., 2021.

[18] Puentes et al., 2021.  P. 37.

[19] Bliss, 2021.

[20] FMCSA. “Commercial Driver’s License: States.” December, 2019.

[21] Tefft, B. C. & Foss, R. D. “Prevalence and Timing of Driver Licensing Among Young Adults, United States, 2019.” October, 2019. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

[22] FMCSA. “Commercial Driver’s License: Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT). February, 2022.

[23] FMCSA. “Waiver in Response to the COVID-19 National Emergency –For States, CDL Holders, CLP Holders, and Interstate Drivers.” December 15, 2020.

[24] U.S. DOT. “DOT, DOL Announce Expansion of Trucking Apprenticeships, New Truck Driver Boards and Studies to Improve the Working Conditions of Truck Drivers.” January 13, 2022.

[25] Puentes et al., 2021.  P. 36.

[26] Luz Lazo.  “Citing attacks directed at buses, Metro weighs service cuts in Anacostia.” Washington Post.  October 28, 2012.

[27] Bureau of Labor Statistics. “When the wheels on the bus stop going round and round: occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities in public transportation.” 2015.

[28] Chris Teale. “Transit workers face growing rate of assaults: ‘There’s not much we can do.’” Smart Cities Dive. February 17, 2021.

[29] Puentes et al., 2021.

[30] Puentes et al., 2021.

[31] GAO, p. 16.

[32] Bliss, 2018.

[33] GAO, 2019; Puentes et al., p. 14.

[34] Justin George.  “Omicron deepens bus driver shortage, frustrating passengers as transit agencies pare back service.”  Washington Post.  January 15, 2022.


Statewide Bus Operator Attraction, Hiring, & Retention Research

These slides were used in a presentation outlining research conducted to better understand the shape and scale of the bus operator shortage in Massachusetts public transit and the adjustments agencies are making to confront these challenges.

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
April 2022

Workforce Shortages Impacting Public Transportation Recovery

This policy brief summarizes results from a survey the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) conducted with transit agencies in early 2022. The majority of responding agencies reported difficulties with hiring, with bus operator recruitment being the biggest challenge.

American Public Transportation Association
March 2022

Managing the Labor Shortage at Transit Agencies

This article examines labor shortages in the public transit industry. It focuses on the following points:

  • Transit agencies across the United States are experiencing a significant shortage in labor, that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened. This shortage is negatively impacting the services they provide to the public.
  • Employees at transit agencies have a significantly higher median age than employees in other industries.
  • Transit agencies should use data and information to consider recruiting and retaining employees for the long term.

Shared-Use Mobility Center
November 2021
Image of a cartoon hand cupped underneath a lightbulb; reads TWC resource

Empowering a Resilient Transit Workforce

This webinar identifies critical labor market benchmarks and addresses ways to cultivate a more resilient and empowered transit workforce, particularly in the post-COVID world. The speakers delve into resiliency challenges and education and training solutions.

Eno Center of Transportation
June 2020

A Guide for the Development of Career Pathways in Transportation

This guide outlines the steps that transportation industry stakeholders can take to develop or expand Career Pathways to focus on the skills, competencies, and credentials needed for high-demand jobs in the transportation industry and its subsectors.

U.S. Department of Education; Jobs for the Future; International Transportation Learning Center
December 2015