Money

Pay Day: What Chauffeurs And Bus Drivers Earn

Tom Halligan
Posted on March 23, 2017

As the national unemployment rate dips and wages rise due to a tighter job market, finding and keeping chauffeurs becomes an even bigger challenge for operators.

After years of recession-era depressed wages, what to pay chauffeurs and CDL drivers is a recurring topic on social media chat groups, at association meetings, and at trade shows. Finding professionals has been a pain point for operators during the post-recession economy.

Some will argue competition from TNCs has depleted the available pool of potential candidates. Others say it’s just the general state of the economy to find qualified people who either have the experience or the traits necessary to be trained to become a professional chauffeur.

In addition to figuring out competitive hourly rates, incentives, and benefit packages to recruit and retain chauffeurs, operators who have expanded into minibus and motorcoach service also must deal with another pool of drivers who must have a CDL and the experience and smarts to handle large groups safely. Not easy.

Of course, pay scales vary among cities and regions depending on the job market. Statistics from the U.S. Dept. of Labor (May 2015) group chauffeurs and taxi drivers together, but can be used as a reference point for general wages. Nationally, taxi drivers and chauffeurs earn about $27,000 per year (annual mean wage) which equates to about $13 per hour.

Bus driver statistics are a bit tricky because of different categories (such as urban transit drivers), but for the “charter bus industry,” “scenic and sightseeing,” and “other transit and ground passenger transportation” categories, drivers’ annual mean wages range from $30,300 to $31,800.

Obviously, wages vary upon region and cost of living. In the New York metro area, the annual taxi/limo wage is $32,390 compared to Texas which is $24,440. For bus drivers, California is the highest at $41,530 compared to Florida at $33,320 (for all groupings of bus drivers).

You also can find other sources for current chauffeur wages. The website Glassdoor.com provides wages by city and region. For example, the site reports that the national chauffeur salary is $24,000, but in high-end cities such as New York and Los Angeles, the average is $36,600. Salary.com lists the median annual salary at $31,941 (as of January 2017), with a range from $27,2014 to $37,852. Payscale.com reports the median chauffeur hourly wage is $12.68 an hour with an overall range from $9.28 to $24.70 an hour.

As you can see, wages vary by the various sources cited. Operators report it’s not just the hourly wage that matters to prospective employees. Attracting talent also requires offering benefits, flex scheduling, a career path, incentives, steady work, and a host of ancillary perks and benefits that attract and retain star chauffeurs and drivers.

Here’s a snapshot of three regions based on how operators pay chauffeurs and drivers, and their methods to attract and retain talent.

Sami Elotmani, vice president of operations and director of global affiliate partnerships at Destination MCO
Sami Elotmani, vice president of operations and director of global affiliate partnerships at Destination MCO
Orlando

Orlando, Fla., is outpacing the country in growth as people relocate to the area because of low unemployment rate and job opportunities. Considering the anchor hospitality and related industries provide numerous transportation jobs, finding qualified chauffeurs is a challenge.

Because the Orlando area is one of the hottest economic and employment regions in the country, “it puts a lot of pressure on operators to try to improve chauffeur pay packages,” says Sami Elotmani, vice president of operations and director of global affiliate partnerships at Destination MCO.

“Our chauffeur average (after 60 days) pay range is $14-$20 an hour with gratuity, but we explain to prospects we offer a comprehensive package that includes benefits, paid time off, and more,” says Elotmani, adding that drivers with CDL licenses who handle his minicoach business earn $1-$3 more per hour. Competition for CDL drivers is tough with jobs available at Disney, campus shuttles, and hotels. Elotmani said it costs thousands of dollars to recruit chauffeurs if you add up advertising, interviews, background checks, safety record checks, and background investigations, so retaining chauffeurs is a company goal.

Steve Qua, president of Company Car and Limousine
Steve Qua, president of Company Car and Limousine
Cleveland

Steve Qua, president of Company Car and Limousine in Cleveland, Ohio, and board director of the National Limousine Association, says his chauffeurs are full-time employees who get benefits and work 40-hour weeks. They average $25,000-$30,000 per year (including gratuities).

“Our model is to hire full-time chauffeurs who work three shifts,” Qua says. Like Elotmani, Qua believes his model of full-time employment plus benefits is an advantage to attract and retain chauffeurs. “I do use a couple of part-time chauffeurs on weekends because some of my regulars have weekends off, but they’re not as sharp or give the attention to customers like my regulars do.”

Tom Holden, general manager at Rose Chauffeured Transportation
Tom Holden, general manager at Rose Chauffeured Transportation
Charlotte

“You get what you pay for,” says Tom Holden, general manager at Rose Chauffeured Transportation in Charlotte, N.C., referring to recruiting and retaining chauffeurs and motorcoach drivers. “I have probably 10 guys applying right now, but the quality isn’t there so I’m not going to hire them because I can’t have them responsible for driving one of our coaches with 57 passengers.”

Rose pays $18.50 an hour for motorcoach drivers, higher compared to some other regional companies, Holden says. But the company’s viewpoint is the drivers, as well as chauffeurs, are the “face” of the company’s reputation. His minibus drivers average about $15 an hour. Chauffeurs earn on average about $13 an hour including gratuity. The longer they stay with the company, the more their hourly rate increases from their start dates. “We pay more because we are very selective, but you absolutely see the return on investment,” he adds.

Another reason Rose pays well is insurance companies are scrutinizing operators more often, looking for a minimum three years of experience, Holden says.

Chauffeur Career Path

One of the ways Destination MCO gets and keeps chauffeurs is through its tiered advancement system. “We have a four-tier system where chauffeurs can move up to the highest tier, what we call Ambassador status,” Elotmani says. “The goal is to provide motivation and a career path, plus money and benefits as they move up the tiers. Generally in this business there isn’t a career path for chauffeurs. You can’t just dole out a couple of cents or a dollar or two because people want a purpose to their work and a reason to stay.”

For example, Elotmani explains when a chauffeur reaches Ambassador status, they have the opportunity to become a lead chauffeur or trainer. He notes if a chauffeur doesn’t “graduate” to another tier in six months to a year, “they probably are on their way out. The way we look at it, if all of our chauffeurs reach Ambassador status, we will be more than happy to pay them more and offer great benefits because we know they are delivering the highest level of service and are motivated employees.” 

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Related Topics: chauffeur pay, Florida operators, North Carolina operators, Ohio operators, Orlando, salary surveys, Steven Qua, Tom Holden

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