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Motorcoach bus driver is on the move

It used to be that intercity buses had a bad rap as a sordid form of transportation, reserved for sketchy itinerant characters bound for grimy cities or remote destinations. But nowadays, buses have evolved as a new breed of eco-friendly people-movers, decked out with free Wi-Fi, XM radio, clean restrooms, video monitors, online ticketing, and curbside service. On today’s congested roadways, each coach has the capacity to take 55 cars off the road at one time.

Motorcoach driver Joe Fimple of C&J bus services, based out of Portsmouth, N.H., is a believer in bus travel, of course, especially in the economic downturn, with airline cutbacks and volatile gas prices. But as a road jockey who maneuvers the steering wheel of a 51-passenger, 50,000-pound, $400,000 vehicle, Fimple, 64, who does the South Station, Logan Airport, Newburyport, Portsmouth to Dover run, says, “Every night is an adventure.” He clocks in 300 miles during his 11-hour day, finishing at 1 a.m. after returning the bus to the maintenance facility, where it is cleaned and refueled.

It’s no surprise that traffic is Fimple’s biggest occupational hazard. “I’ll be heading north on Route 1, turn a corner, and bang, the road is completely clogged. I always think, ‘Where is everyone coming from?’ But you can’t possibly get upset or have any road rage. I just grin and bear it.” And, he adds, despite traffic delays, somehow drivers usually arrive within their scheduled time zone. “It takes a heck of a lot to make us super late.”

Fimple is a former 30-year tractor trailer veteran for a beverage company who wanted to stay active after retirement and ended up hitting the roads again for C&J. On his route down the seacoast, passengers include flight crews, vacationing families, students, and commuters. He’s often bag handler as well as driver, hauling out luggage – scuba gear, fishing apparatus, even the equipment for volunteer firefighters on the go – from the undercarriage compartment. Employment growth for intercity bus drivers like Fimple is projected to grow 8 percent to 2018 decade, as a result of changing attitudes toward public transit in the United States.

Q: What’s it like regularly driving at Logan Airport?
A:
I don't know if you’ve been down there lately, but it’s a challenge – there’s so much activity: taxi cabs, rental car buses, and pedestrians. Our buses are especially designed to fit through Logan Airport, and upstairs at Terminal B, there’s a very low deck. I’ve seen out-of-state charter bus companies actually get stuck there. The State Police has had to shut down runways to back these vehicles down.

Q: What’s the process of becoming a bus driver?
A:
A Commercial Drivers License (CDL) is required, which requires passing a written exam and vision test, which leads to a permit for the required road test. To add “endorsements” to the CDL, you need to pass extra written or skill exams. If you’re looking for work, talk to bus companies to find out what their procedures are.

Q: What sort of queries from passengers do you field as a bus driver?
A:
The bus is clearly marked with our destination, “Dover, N.H.” but passengers will get onboard and say, “Take me to New York.” Or because the bus is silver, they will think we are part of the MBTA silver line. Or, they’ll want to get to the airport in 20 minutes, when the trip takes an hour and a half. I’ve heard it all, but it’s all in a day’s work.

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