"I drive the same route every morning and afternoon. The same places. The same streets... but what makes each day different for me is the interaction I have with the kids."
A big yellow door swings open and a smiling face says, “Good morning”. That smiling face belongs to a Bellevue school bus driver, the first District employee most students see each morning. Bus drivers greet nervous kindergartners the first week of school and keep energetic middle school students in stitches with corny jokes. They navigate narrow streets and jammed freeways, and most importantly, safely deliver thousands of students to school, and home again, each and every school day.
The Bellevue School District employs 70 full-time bus drivers, as well as about 20 on-call drivers. Their work begins long before the bus pulls up to its first stop. Every morning before they pull out of the parking lot, drivers run a series of safety checks on their bus, like thumping the tires and testing all the lights. Once everything checks out, it’s off to pick up their first busload of students. And it’s not even seven in the morning.
Depending on their route, drivers usually pick up students for one school, drop them off, then head back out and pick up another group of kids for a different school. They make the trip in reverse at the end of the school day. During the hours in-between, they may be behind the wheel on a school field trip, driving a shuttle bus for special programs, or providing out-of-district transportation. During busy times of the year, there may be as many as 30 field trips each day.
Drivers who get the same route each year get to watch “their kids” grow up. It starts on the very first day of school. “Sometimes at the beginning of the year, I have kids who hug their mom or hug their mom’s leg and not want to let go,” says Peter Wright, who’s been a Bellevue school bus driver for nearly a decade. “When I open the door and see that, I try to have this great big smile and say ‘Hey! Welcome! We’re glad to have you on the bus!’ That’s the kind of energy I want to show them.”
Keeping students safe is the number one priority. Drivers undergo a comprehensive initial training course, where they learn everything from defensive driving and railroad crossing procedures to passenger management and proper mirror use. Every year, drivers get a refresher course at their annual in-service. They also receive ongoing training on how to drive in bad weather and driving students with special transportation needs.
In addition to their pre-trip inspections, drivers also do a walk-through each time a group of students gets off the bus, looking for sleeping students or lost items. They also complete another inspection after driving their bus back to the lot each afternoon. The busses undergo regular maintenance checks. The Washington State Patrol also performs an inspection of the entire fleet each summer, and in the fall and winter, pops in for a surprise inspection of about a quarter of the fleet. Each bus must pass inspection to get an operating permit. “Our record of passing at or near 100% is outstanding,” says Terry Parker, District Transportation Manager.
Students can sit back and enjoy the ride, but there are rules to follow. The bus driver has the authority and responsibility to enforce rules, which include no moving while the bus is in motion and no fighting. Students who break the rules repeatedly could lose their bus riding privileges.
The one thing that school bus drivers want you to know about their job: when that big red sign pops out as they pull over, do what it says - STOP. “This is probably the most important part of my job, making sure that people don’t run that sign,” says Wright. “We really take measures to make sure that our children are safe,” including special signals to students waiting at the curb, letting them know when it’s safe to cross the street.
The Bellevue School District currently has 69 bus routes and provides regular bus service to elementary and middle school students who live outside their walk boundary. High school students who live outside their walk boundary and do not drive to school receive a Metro Transit bus pass. To learn more about the Transportation Services Department, click here.