Daily vehicle checks. Route navigation. And smiles and waves to the bejesus.
Driving a school bus is hardly what Frank Martinez envisioned as a career while sitting in graphic design class two decades ago at UCLA. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I grew up in Los Angeles and had only driven small cars all my life. I was always scared of driving big vehicles. I hated ’em, couldn’t stand ’em,” said Martinez, director of operations at Sunrise Coach Lines Inc. and a school bus driver for the company. “It was completely out of my wheelhouse, but it has turned out to be one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”
Martinez started with Sunrise five years ago, when he and his wife Claire moved their family to eastern Long Island so that the couple could help run the 86-year-old company.
While Claire had thrived in a career in event management in Los Angeles and Memphis, the move was a coming-home-again moment, and learning to drive a bus just came with the territory. Her family has run Sunrise for four generations.
But for Frank, it was all new, particularly the part about getting behind the wheel of the company vehicles.
“It was the strangest thing for me to feel more comfortable in a vehicle that size,” he said. “You’re sitting so high and you have so many mirrors. I can back a bus up into anything. It is a lot easier than you think.”
Claire grew up in the company, going to work with her mother Michelle Scheffler and riding along on the buses that her mom drove. But she had not imagined that she would grow up to eventually drive a bus while helping run the company.
“This isn’t a profession we immediately thought of or necessarily though we would ever be doing,” she said. “But now that we’re in it and we’re doing it, we love it. At the core of it, it’s one of the easiest jobs, and probably the most rewarding jobs, I’ve ever done.”
That job satisfaction is a key part of the message in the company’s ongoing recruitment effort. Sunrise needs to add 15-20 drivers, along with bus maintenance workers, dispatchers and other positions essential for operating its growing fleet of buses. Night, day and weekend shifts are available.
The company is offering $2,500 signing bonuses to drivers who join Sunrise’s transit operation and $1,500 to the school bus drivers it hires. Scroll down to get in touch.
And once on board, first-time drivers are generally are on the road in less than a month. Sunrise has a paid, in-house training program that puts driver to work in three weeks, on average.
“People have this idea that it’s really difficult to drive a bus. It’s not as difficult as you think,” Claire emphasized. “And it’s such a vital profession.
It may not be might be that much of an Instagram-worthy profession but, truly, if no one was driving buses, you’d have no transit public transportation and you’d have no one bringing kids to school.”
Part of the need for more drivers stems from Suffolk County Transit’s new “Reimagined Transit” initiative, which introduced route changes this month that significantly affect the public municipal transit service that Greenport-based Sunrise provides on the island’s North and South forks.
“Because they’ve re-done the routes, it’s actually pushing us to expand,” Claire said. “It’s a big part of the reason for our hiring push. We want to be able to take on the demands of the expanding transit routes and the increased demand in schools. We’re growing and we need the staff to help achieve that.”
Prospective drivers should know that Sunrise’s recently reached contract agreement with the union that represents its transit drivers with a starting salary rate of $27 an hour and up for transit bus drivers and with annual raises.
Drivers with experience will be paid more — at a rate commensurate with their time behind the whee. Drivers also have ample opportunities to take on other bus work and build on their base salary, Claire said.
Transit bus drivers on their off days can operate a school bus to drive children to field trips, sporting events or other activities. The company also provides overtime pay opportunities to drivers who operate their buses for weddings, wine tours, birthday parties and other private events.
“There’s tremendous revenue potential for our transit drivers, especially when you factor in opportunities to additionally drive school buses and our coach busestrips that fall outside their typical working schedule,” Claire said. “We’re able to offer people as much or as little work as they want. There’s always driving time available.”
Furthermore, driving a bus is a highly stable career, Frank noted.
“We’re finding in talking to a lot of our existing staff and onboarding staff that they’re all coming from careers that really had nothing to do with driving,” Frank said. “The common thread is the sustainability of transit and the reliability of always having constant work.”
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