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Local Transit Operator

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Nature of the Work

Local transit operators run vehicles that provide public transportation to people who live in towns and cities. They operate buses, subways, and, in some cities, trolleys. Local transit systems offer their passengers dependable transportation and fixed stops. Most local transit operators work in cities, where the need for them is greatest. Some cities operate their own public transportation. In these cities the drivers work for government agencies. In many places, however, drivers work for private companies that are contracted by the local government to operate the transportation system.

At the beginning of each shift bus drivers go to a garage to pick up their buses. They check their buses before beginning their trip. They also pick up forms for refunds and transfers. Then they drive to the terminal or the first stop on the line. Bus drivers gather the fares from the passengers along the way. They also answer passengers' questions about the routes and stops they make.

Trolley drivers have much the same duties. At present there are few traditional trolleys left in service. There are, however, trackless trolleys. They are buses that run on electricity from overhead power wires. Like bus drivers, trolley operators also give transfers, make refunds, and gather fares.

Subway drivers ride in the front of the first car, where they can start and stop the subway train. These drivers must obey various signals and lights along their route. However, subway drivers do not collect fares from passengers or answer questions about routes and stops they make. The subway operator's job is different from that of the subway driver. Operators open and close the doors. They ride in small rooms with windows that allow them to watch to make sure that passengers do not get caught in the doors. Operators also announce the stops over a loudspeaker.

Bus and trolley operators drive in street traffic. They have to obey the same laws that cars do. Any driver who has an accident must fill out a detailed accident report. Drivers must also hand in reports after each trip and account for the money they have gathered.

Education and Training

For most jobs, operators must be over 21 years old at the time they are hired. They must be strong and in good health. Bus driving, in particular, is strenuous work. Good eyesight is very important. Whereas there often are no educational requirements, applicants have a better chance of getting a job if they have a high school diploma.

A good driving record is important too. Having a few years of driving experience is helpful, especially if you want to drive a bus or subway train. In most states transit operators must have a chauffeur's license.

The training period for transit operators may last several weeks. During this time new operators learn how to operate their trains or buses. They also learn about safety rules and company regulations. Operators are shown how to fill out the different forms they will use. Practical as well as classroom training is provided. New operators spend some time watching more experienced drivers. Then they begin making runs while a supervisor watches. These early runs are often made without passengers. At the end of the training period most companies give both a written and a driving or operating test. New operators are given their routes after they pass these tests. Some are put on an extra list at first; they work when regular operators are sick or on vacation.

Getting the Job

You should contact the offices of transit companies directly. Sometimes job openings are listed in newspapers in the help wanted ads. Often these openings can be found at state and private employment offices. Also check with the appropriate labor unions to find out about job openings.

Employment Outlook

Many local transit operators go on to become drivers in other fields. A trolley operator, for instance, may become a taxi driver; and a local bus driver may become a long distance bus driver or a long haul truck driver. Some operators become dispatchers or take on other supervisory jobs. However, there are many more jobs for operators than there are for supervisors.

Many cities are trying to upgrade public transportation in an effort to increase ridership. Improved service will require more drivers. Therefore, the job outlook for local transit operators in most areas is generally expected to be good. Many openings will also occur each year to replace local transit operators who retire or leave their jobs for other reasons. However, competition for full-time jobs for bus drivers is expected to be keen.

Working Conditions

Transit operators work in shifts. Only a few of them work from 9:00 to 5:00. Many companies operate vehicles during the night. Furthermore, they usually run vehicles on weekends and holidays. Some operators work in what are called "swing shifts." These shifts consist of several hours of steady work followed by a long break and then more work. This system puts extra vehicles in service during the peak hours. Most local transit operators work 5 days a week. Often they have to work on Saturdays and Sundays. Their typical working day is 8 hours. Operators are generally paid overtime for working more than 8 hours a day.

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings vary widely, depending on the size of the city. For example, operators working for large companies in areas with populations of more than 2 million earn about $31,000 to $34,000 a year. Operators working in areas with populations of 250,000 to 500,000 earn about $25,000, and those working in cities with fewer than 50,000 people earn about $22,000 a year. Subway and trolley operators usually earn about the same amount as bus drivers in the same cities. Benefits generally include life and health insurance and pension plans. Paid vacations range from 1 to 5 weeks a year.
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