TriMet ramps up hiring of new bus operators as more people return to pre-pandemic travel patterns
When new bus operators start working at TriMet, they can expect to gain a lot: seven weeks of paid training, excellent benefits and the pride of mastering a challenging skill. What they might not expect is the difference they make in people’s lives, connecting people with opportunities and helping make our community a better place to live.
“Always greet your customers,” urged new bus operator Eric Jackson. “Just saying hello or giving them a smile, that could probably change their whole day.”
Eric just graduated from TriMet’s seven-week bus operator training program. He never drove a bus before. His background is in customer service. It’s a skill that TriMet considers essential and one that comes naturally to many of the diverse candidates who consider working at TriMet.
No experience necessary
“A job candidate who I met not too long ago owned a cat hotel. She wanted a new career,” remembered Operations Training Manager Cynthia Deibert. “We’ve had people who own doughnut shops, baristas, convenience stores, restaurants…”
You don’t have to be a bus operator to become a bus operator for TriMet. The agency, which has been serving the Portland metro’s areas transportation needs for more than half a century, provides all of the training.
“We have a very efficient, effective and comprehensive program,” said Cindi. “We start out with CDL training.”
A commercial driver license is a requirement for the position, and TriMet makes it easy, paying students $17 an hour to learn the skills then offering testing as part of the training program.
“Then we start teaching you all of the things that will make you a phenomenal bus operator,” explained Training Supervisor, Glenn Spice. “Your trainer will help all of those little things click, and the next thing you know, you hear your students say, ‘Oh my gosh, I know how to do this!’”
“Find your way to make studying work for you so that you can retain the information,” advised Eric. “That was a big thing for me here. I thank my trainer dearly for that because the way he trained us brought me to where I am now. I’m very confident behind the wheel.”
TriMet operators know there’s more to sitting behind the wheel than driving the bus. Like any career, the job comes with its challenges and rewards. Eric carefully considered his options before applying.
“I sat and thought about it for the while, and I decided I wanted to take a chance,” he said of starting public service work during a global pandemic. “Maybe this is the hurdle I needed to go over. If I can get through this, you can get through it as well. “
TriMet ridership has started to rebound since the beginning of the pandemic. In June of 2021, more people took trips on our buses or trains than in any month since Oregon went into lock down in March 2020. Service remains at about 90% of what it was prior to the pandemic. The need for new bus operators will increase as more destinations fully reopen and people resume pre-pandemic activities.
Trainers say anyone looking for a change should give TriMet a try.
“The money is fantastic. The benefits are amazing, and there’s room to grow,” said Glenn. “But speaking for me here, the most rewarding thing is being able to help the community.”
With more than 20 years of experience at TriMet, and having worked her way from bus operator to training manager, Cindi agrees.
“You get to be out in the city every day. You get to meet lots of really great people. You get to serve our community,” she said.
After completing the training program, new bus operators hit the road earning more than $18 an hour. With guaranteed pay increases under the Working and Wage Agreement agreed to by Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) 757 and TriMet, full time bus operators can earn more than $68,000 per year after three years, plus benefits and opportunities for overtime.
Eric knows he has a good future ahead of him working for TriMet. His mom has been driver for 21 years and encouraged him to join the team. Eric says he can’t believe he did it, but he’s glad he did.
“I get the benefit of knowing that I helped someone get where they needed to go today. Maybe they need to get to the hospital that I pass on my route,” Eric said. “I want to make sure that I’m here on time and I do what I need to, because you never know what that that person needs.”