While many students utilize the University Transit Service to get to and from class, most are unaware of the training and care of the driver behind the wheel. Almost entirely student-driven, UTS allows students a flexible work schedule to make money while balancing their academics.
In order to become a bus driver, students must present a valid driver's license, fill out an application and complete extensive training. After finishing their training hours, students can officially begin regular operations.
Third-year College student Isela Pierce has been driving for UTS since last January.
“I wanted to be a bus driver much for the same reason that other people do: money and flexible hours,” Pierce said. “UTS is easily the most accommodating job on Grounds when it comes to hours available, and fitting those hours to your schedule.”
As a UTS driver, students receive $10 an hour with the opportunity to advance to higher pay levels during their employment.
“Just about anyone can become a bus driver thanks to the great trainers at UTS,” Pierce said.
While the application process has been streamlined, all students must pass multiple exams to become a driver. Before getting behind the wheel, drivers must pass both written and verbal tests, along with a driving test.
“The hardest part is getting the [commercial driver’s license],” Pierce said. “You have to take four written tests, verbal pre-trip inspection, skills test and a driving test.”
Once behind the wheel, drivers must exercise caution and focus despite the non-traditional setting. Along with exercising safety on the road, drivers must ensure passenger safety throughout the route.
“You have to maintain a calm demeanor at all times because if you let external factors affect you and your driving ability, you’re putting everyone else around you at risk,” Pierce said. “You have to be a dependable driver.”
Despite extensive training, UTS drivers must be prepared to respond to a multitude of emergency situations, from breakdowns to detours. Fourth-year Commerce student Alex Stock is experienced in responding swiftly to the unexpected.
“I was driving the Hospital Shuttle and a firefighter was putting out cones blocking the entrance to the hospital due to a chemical spill,” Stock said. “I had to take the bus all the way down Wertland — including the S-curve — to turn around and try to get back on route.”
Although the job keeps drivers on high alert, Stock notes the route can become repetitive. For Stock, the most exciting part is not about the route but the responsibility as a driver to safely deliver passengers to their destination.
“It’s actually a lot of fun — I like to feel large and in charge,” Stock said. “And if you ever get bored of the routes you can sign up for charters and drive UTS buses all over Virginia.”
Pierce said one of her favorite things about the job is the “bus driver wave” and camaraderie among fellow UTS student drivers.
“It’s definitely a thing, especially when you’re on the shorter routes like [the Inner Loop and Outer Loop] and you see the same few drivers every loop,” Pierce said. “There are a lot of different kinds of waves. It really depends on your preference, and for me, who you’re waving to.”
Pierce said she also enjoys interacting with friendly passengers during the route who take the time to recognize their work.
“[One of my favorite things is] passengers who say thank you,” Pierce said. “We notice and it makes a difference.”
Pierce also offered a few suggestions to keep in mind as passengers ride the UTS bus route in the future.
“Try not to get overly upset with a driver for small things, especially if it’s not something within their power to control, [like] quick stops as a result of being cut off,” Pierce said. “Bus drivers are people, too.”