How To Recruit CDL Chauffeurs For Bus Operations

Jim Luff
Posted on September 7, 2017

The challenge to find chauffeurs has long been an industry issue. In states like California, no special license is required to drive a limousine, sedan, or SUV on a for-hire basis. However, California requires a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) to operate a vehicle seating more than 10 passengers (including the driver) while federal law doesn’t mandate a CDL unless you are running a vehicle that seats more than 15 (including the driver). This is where it gets messy.

Which Law Applies?

Federal law is only applied to operators crossing state lines. State law prevails when operators run their vehicles only in the state that licenses them. Side note: Crossing a state line without federal authority in any kind of for-hire, state-licensed vehicle is illegal; a first violation can cost you $1600. For sure, a driver of a high-occupancy vehicle designed to carry passengers must have a CDL. That CDL requirement has made finding suitable employees very difficult for transportation services nationwide.

Marie Joiner, operator of Modesto, Calif.-based Luxury Limousine

Marie Joiner, operator of Modesto, Calif.-based Luxury Limousine

Insurance Matters

It’s not just a matter of finding quality help. Insurance policy underwriters have drastically shifted their approvals of new chauffeurs hired to operate buses. “The aggregate amount of claims paid out over the last several years is responsible for premium increases across the board, as well as a closer examination of each driver added to the policy,” says Mark Freeark, an agent with TIB Insurance in Glendale, Calif., and an industry expert. 

Many insurance carriers flat out refuse to add to a policy drivers who lack several years of experience. Carol Bean, another industry insurance agent with KIA Insurance, adds, “Insurance companies don’t want their insureds to be a training ground for bus drivers because when an accident occurs, the losses are substantial.” This compounds the problem because if you locate a potential employee who just graduated from a program, he may be uninsurable without practical experience. Unfortunately for these graduates, the odds are against them as well. That doesn’t mean all insurance companies would not consider their training programs to be sufficient, but the industry trend is to require two to three years of previous experience, Bean says.

Mark Freeark, an agent with TIB Insurance

Mark Freeark, an agent with TIB Insurance

Real Struggles

When you are the boss, the buck stops with you. John Oulton, owner of Richmond Limousine in Henrico County, Va., recently had to give up his work in the office for a day to drive a bus since he didn’t have anyone else to do it. Oulton is a member of Wheels In Motion, a focus group of 16 operators nationwide who regularly meet to share business issues. At a recent group meeting in New Jersey, many members shared goals which included hiring CDL drivers for their bus operations. Many operators are driving jobs, or worse yet, turning jobs down simply because they lack qualified drivers.

Skills And Qualities

Experience is a quality you desire just to get your new employee insured. But in our industry, it’s not only the experience of running a bus but having a skill set that differs from that of a Greyhound or school bus driver who drive routes and rarely interact with passengers. Our bus drivers, or bus chauffeurs as some call them, must have large personalities, serve as tour guides, and know the areas they serve and the destinations they travel to. 

Jeff Nyikos, CEO of Leros Point to Point in Hawthorne, N.Y.

Jeff Nyikos, CEO of Leros Point to Point in Hawthorne, N.Y.

Most industry insurance carriers require potential drivers to be a minimum of 25 years-old. Additional requirements, Bean says, include a good driving record with no more than two moving violations in the past three years, no previous license suspensions, and no convictions related to drugs or alcohol. 

“A prior accident would not necessarily exclude a driver from coverage, but would cause the underwriter to take a close look at the circumstances of the accident and particularly who was at fault,” Bean says. Other qualities and skills include the ability to lift up to 50 pounds, pass a drug and alcohol screening, and enjoy working with the public and talking to people. Marie Joiner, operator of Modesto, Calif.-based Luxury Limousine, says it’s important for wine tour bus drivers to be familiar with wineries they visit as well as wine.

Where Do You Find Them?

At the International LCT Show in March, many operators shared their ideas for recruiting drivers at an educational session about recruiting. Some suggestions included using Facebook advertising, participating in community job fairs, working with community partners that focus on placement for job seekers, such as veteran’s affairs groups and placement coordinators with college campuses and trucking schools. Other ideas include holding your own job fair and setting up an internal referral system for employees to earn bonuses for recruiting. Some operators have succeeded using Craig’s List. Other popular online recruitment sources are Indeed.com and Glassdoor.com.

Carol Bean, an industry insurance agent with KIA Insurance

Carol Bean, an industry insurance agent with KIA Insurance

How Do You Pay Them?

For those who morphed into the bus business from a traditional limousine service, the same pay scale used for chauffeurs should apply to bus chauffeurs. That’s usually an hourly pay plus a gratuity of 20%. This could reach an hourly rate of about $50 or more. With this pay, it’s hard to understand why people don’t apply for jobs in droves. The average pay for a Greyhound bus driver is $17 to $22 per hour with limited opportunity for tips. The average national rate of pay for charter bus drivers is $14.81. Compare this to most commercial airline pilots who are required to have a college degree and earn about $70 per hour. By contrast, a Physician’s Assistant earns an average of $47 per hour while firefighters and paramedics earn an average of $22.53 and $15.38 per hour respectively for saving lives. Some companies have treated this more sensibly and pay $18 to $25 per hour without a gratuity. It is uncommon for charter bus companies to mandate their clients to pay a gratuity.


Hiring and training a new employee requires a big investment. This includes background checks, drug and alcohol screenings, and training. Incentive programs are a great way to recognize employees for exemplary performance and are low-cost morale boosters. These can include an employee of the month program or as something simple as a Starbucks gift card to say, “Thanks for a job well done.” Foremost, remind employees how much you appreciate and recognize them for their contributions.

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Training Your New Employee

Once you’ve hired a candidate, you should put him into a defined orientation program that includes proof of proficiency in tasks, knowledge, and duties in each phase of formal training.

Jeff Nyikos, CEO of Leros Point to Point in Hawthorne, N.Y., tests for knowledge and general information to see what level of training new employees need. “This has helped identify candidates who are most likely to deliver service that meets the expectations of the company,” Nyikos says.

A strong training program gives new employees confidence before they start. Training should cover specifics on company orientation, culture, and duty expectations, and how they should deliver customer service.

Related Topics: Driver training, employee recruitment, hiring, hiring chauffeurs, How To, recruiting chauffeurs

Jim Luff General Manager
Comments ( 1 )
  • Anthony

     | about 3 years ago

    In los angeles most questionable party bus operators are simply paying what ever they want, charging a gratuity and not giving that to the driver. The issue nation wide is the operators that are not truthfull on what their driver wages are. When chauffeurs are making 28.00 38.00 48.00 per hour you always have a driver available. If you cant find a driver, their is something wrong with the way you run your business. During the feb 2016 asian summit in palms springs, our chauffeurs spotted an owner driving a sprinter, we thought his drivers did not pass the secret service backround check. Anytime you as the owner have to suit up and drive, there is something very wrong in the way your running your business. I have stated many times: quality pay, quality service, repeat customers, = PROFITS. Your business will grow 60% from the chauffeurs you provide to your customers. If you pay dirt, you have no growth

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