Opinion | Thank the bus driver: An ode to CDL drivers and blue-collar work


TPN File Photo

A Port Authority 54C bus.

By Jessica Snyder, Staff Writer

My brother is 19 and is already Commercial Driver’s License certified in Pennsylvania to drive big 18-wheel vehicles. Although he has to wait until he turns 21 to be able to drive across state borders, he has a full-time job pretty early into his adult life.

Meanwhile, I am here, writing for a newspaper, racking up student loans and patiently waiting for a degree at 21.

From time to time, I find myself jealous of my brother, as he has already embarked on the journey for his lifelong career. Sometimes he might find himself jealous of me, living five hours away and receiving a higher education. My point is that we are experiencing life in two vastly different worlds, even though we grew up under the same roof.

It doesn’t have to be this way — the first step to fixing this perceived divide between the different paths that my brother and I chose starts at the high school level. Then, we have to see how essential all jobs are in our everyday lives.

As students, we need to acknowledge and change our inherent classism imprinted upon us by our culture. In keeping with the theme of CDL drivers, I think we could start by thanking Port Authority bus drivers.

When I went to high school, going to college upon graduation was pushed hard. We had AP classes, honors classes and Naviance, where all of these things came together with the intent of making our college applications look stronger. The college you were going to after high school was seen as a bragging right, and my high school had a designated wall for writing your name under the school you were attending.

The same could not be said for the trade school. Two other area high schools shared the trade school my brother went to through our high school. The support for these programs was lackluster, since there was a stigma among traditional students that, somehow, trade students were below them.

My brother described it as, “desiring higher knowledge at a younger age to ensure a lasting future,” for himself. He told me that he, was trying to live the American Dream where you graduate high school and start working right away.” Entering the workforce early came with the unintended consequence of not everyone understanding why some students take this route.

I mention all of this because I believe we allowed this stigma to translate into adulthood. We’re humans and shouldn’t be defined by the professions we take up. Nonetheless, trade jobs are valid, necessary and commendable — my brother can change my car’s headlight in 15 minutes while I couldn’t even tell you where to begin with such a task.

The process of becoming a Port Authority bus driver is no small feat and definitely deserves recognition, considering the service they provide for Allegheny County. The CDL training program administered by the agency is a 10-week process with a 90-day probationary period. Wages start at $21.94 an hour, and whether this is reasonable or not is a completely different argument in and of itself. In today’s context, $21.94 an hour might not be enough to sufficiently support a family.

What’s more is that the Port Authority is a necessary service that most people in the City rely on. Bus drivers are skilled service workers that deserve recognition.

Working in a service industry isn’t easy by any means. Bus drivers are presumably no strangers when it comes to serving the rude customers that naturally come along with the service industry.

Driving conditions can also be rather unpredictable at times. Snow only delays buses in extreme conditions — otherwise bus drivers are expected to keep chugging along. With buses caught in recent freak accidents such as bridge collapses and sinkholes, the job proves to be ever uncertain and sometimes even dangerous.

Despite all of these setbacks, bus drivers still manage to make a career for themselves while showing up to their job every day to provide an essential transportation service. It isn’t an easy task, yet all of it can be done without taking the college route.

Workers with and without degrees are essential for a functioning society. Considering this, we need to stop seeing college as the end all be all, and start seeing trades as the essential positions they are.

We have to recognize that bus drivers are highly skilled workers dedicated to getting us safely from point A to point B. At the very least, bus drivers are human and need to be treated as such. It takes almost no effort to ask a bus driver how they are doing when you get on the bus and thank them when you get off if it’s convenient to do so. They showed up for you, so show your gratitude.

As college students in Pittsburgh, we are highly privileged when it comes to transportation, whether we realize it or not. Free public transit is included in our room and board. A simple tap of our Panther cards granting us effortless travel across the City.

Driving a bus is unforgiving, and it would be naive to think that just anyone could do it. So, take an extra two seconds out of your day to thank the bus driver if you use public transportation — it’s simply the right thing to do.

Jessica Snyder primarily writes about controversy in art and politics. Write to her at [email protected].