So, armed with my CDL, I finished my on-the-road training and went to an active terminal, to pick-up and drop-off kids. My terminal is a concrete block building with three bays for the mechanics to pull in buses, two small bathrooms, an area for the school coordinators to set up the bus aides, our manager’s office, a sort of common area for meetings and waiting (and the coffee machine), and the area for the dispatchers. All of this was a bit confusing as to where I should be when waiting, and I could and couldn’t go. I’ll write more about it later.
So something more up-to-date here, I’m getting my CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) so that I can drive the real yellow (National School Bus Chrome) buses with the flashing lights for pay. If you’re considering getting your CDL with a truck-driving school you can look to pay as much at $2500, and even more if you’re going for hazardous materials. So, what is it you get from such courses?
Well, as of right now I’ve just got past the physical and the written portions of the exams. There are three levels of CDL; the ‘A’ license will let you drive the heavy combination vehicles (tractor-trailers), the ‘B’ gets you to be able to drive heavy single units (like a big, full-sized school bus), and the ‘C’ will get you smaller single-unit trucks and buses (say with more than 15 passengers, but not too many more than 25). To get any one of these you have to pass a general knowledge test which includes safe driving practices, pre-trip inspections of vehicles, what rights and responsibilities you have when driving, how far from or close to some road/driving element you should or must be.
You can actually get the CDL manual for free, and it has all the information you need (for your state, in
addition to the federal rules). A ton of this information is common sense, as with the statement ‘[at an at-grade railroad crossing] you are required to yield right of way to a train’ or the whole section on ‘signalling’ which boils down to ‘you should signal to make turns & change lanes’. But some of it is not so common-sense, like finding out that school & transit buses need to stop no less than 15 feet and no more than 50 feet from a passive (no lights, bells, or gates) at-grade railroad crossing and no less than 50 feet from an unattended lift bridge in order to determine if it’s safe to cross.
Some of it is sneaky too. One of the requirements on checking cargo is that you have to do it 50 miles into your trip. Or 25 if you get an older test bank question from New York State. There are 50 questions on the general CDL exam, 25 on the air-brake exam, 20 on the passenger vehicle exam, and 20 on the school bus exam. On each of these, you have to score an 80% or better correct answer rate.
Happily, I passed all of these on my first go, and am now the proud owner of a CDL permit allowing me to drive a school bus (with an appropriately licensed trainer). Now the fun begins …