As a driving instructor, it’s become one of my favourite questions to ask students working toward a commercial licence. Oddly, most simply don’t know — or more likely, simply haven’t given the topic much thought.
Replies range from:
“Drive truck safely & efficiently.”
To simple blank stares – as if I asked them the colour of their underpants.
Truck drivers move freight and services between point “A” and point “B” as quickly as humanly possible.
Bus drivers move passengers, freight and services between point “A” and point “B” according to a set schedule.
Truck drivers and bus drivers provide customer service. For truck drivers, the places where they’re delivering the freight and services are customers of the truck company for which they work. If a driver, for example, is belligerent or unwilling to do certain tasks, there is a possibility that the company hiring the trucking company may request the driver not to be sent back. This poor customer service reflects badly on the trucking company.
Bus drivers, on the other hand, provide customer service as an integral part of their job. Passenger safety and comfort are the number one priority of any and all bus drivers. Bus drivers too, communicate with dispatch, ticket agents, support staff at bus stations, school personnel and others at rest stops and travel destinations.
Many bus companies rely on their drivers as the front-line workers; the level of customer service provided by the driver often determines whether the school board, ski hill or resorts which hires the services of the busing company are going to renew their contract with the bus company.
In our modern age of cellular phones and satellite tracking devices, many drivers are required to communicate their position along the route several times a day. In doing so, this allows dispatchers and other logistics personnel to schedule loads and trips. If drivers communicate with other staff members, this allows minimal delays in the transportation of freight, passengers, and services.
As well, dock personnel and other staff that deal with passengers are prepared when the driver arrives. This notification allows better customer service all round.
For bus drivers, it is important to call ahead to restaurants, rest stops, and other travel spots if they are planning unscheduled stops. It is a violation of bus driver etiquette to “rock up” on a restaurant and dump 30-50 passengers on them without warning. They may simply not be prepared or have the staff present to meet the demands of this number of customers at a single time.
ROUTE PLANNING & NAVIGATION
A recent BC job posting for a Class 3 position stated: “Drivers must be able to navigate well.” For many new commercial drivers, route planning and navigation present the biggest challenge to their new job. These drivers soon learn that—unlike a passenger vehicle—they can’t turn the larger vehicle around in someone’s driveway when they get lost. Bus drivers too get lost. These drivers experience great embarrassment owing to the fact that they have an audience (ie their passengers).
After a couple of times of getting lost and driving countless miles to turn the unit around, drivers clue into the fact that significant energy must be dedicated to route planning and navigation. And unfortunately, due to time constraints, many commercial driving schools do not teach students these skills, underscoring a failing of their curriculum.1
COMPLY WITH HOS, WEIGHTS, & VEHICLE SAFETY
It is part-and-parcel of a commercial drivers job to do a daily pre-trip inspection, en-route and post-trip over the course of their daily journeys. During the course of the day, whenever a driver leaves or approaches their vehicle, she must be examining it for damage, or components hanging down, or that may be loose. During the drive, the operator is feeling, listening, hearing, and monitoring the gauges. Often a defect can be identified before it becomes a major repair.
Truck drivers must ensure that their unit complies with regulations governing gross vehicle & axle weights.
Both bus & truck drivers must comply with HOS (hours of service regulations) that governs the amount of time that a driver can work and drive in the commercial driving industry.
- Log books
- Pre-trip inspection forms
- Bills of Lading (Shipping or Freight Documents)
- Time Sheets
- Maintain Receipts
- Maintenance Reports
- Border Crossing
- Toll Roads
- Other Miscellaneous documents as these relate to your job.
One of the most important components of a commercial driver’s job is time management. Although the schedule for truck drivers is implicit, it does exist. When a driver is assigned a load, dispatchers determine the time it will take to make the journey based on an average speed of the vehicle. Consequently both truck and bus drivers must move freight, passengers and services within the confines of set time. For truck drivers they must know the range of their vehicle's fuel tanks, determine where to refuel, and when to schedule breaks, meals and sleep times if the trip last longer than a day.
Although bus & truck driver operate a commercial vehicle, the number of secondary skills and abilities that contribute to the overall task are extensive. Customer service, communication, route planning & navigation, compliance and the ability to fill out, complete, and collate paperwork are all required components of a driver’s job. When applying for a driving job keep these other abilities in mind. And know that first and foremost, your job application is going to reflect your ability to complete and hand in paperwork. Without the proper paperwork, neither you nor the company get paid.
1 Route planning is studying maps and calling for directions to a destination, prior to starting the trip. When route planning, always consult two sources - don't rely solely on your GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) or internet directions.
Navigation is the execution of the route plan.