JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When you think of some of the top paying jobs in Jacksonville, you might think architect, engineer and computer scientist.
But what if we told you one group of government employees in the river city is at the higher end of the pay spectrum? We're talking about city bus drivers at the Jacksonville Transportation Authority.
To become a city bus driver, you don't need a college diploma. But, when it comes to the bottom line, some of these civil servants drive home with tens of thousands of dollars more than some who do have a degree.
The average person in Jacksonville makes about $41,000. But those with specialized degrees do better. According to the department of labor statistics, on average, computer scientists and mathematicians make just over 65-thousand. Architects and engineers make about 68-thousand.
The starting salary for JTA bus drivers is only around $23,000, but if you're willing to work long hours, you can do better. In fact, we found of the more than 330 city bus drivers, 102 made more than $50,000 per year. Twenty-four drivers topped $60,000. That's the same as an average computer programmer in Jacksonville. But drivers don't top out there. Eight drivers made more than $70,000. That's more than an average engineer. One hard working driver took home more than $85,000.
JTA Director of Mass Transit Clinton Forbes said, "With any public transportation system, overtime is necessary to operate."
We asked Forbes about the driver with the top take-home pay of more than $85,000. He worked 3,400 hours last year. That's an average of about 65 hours per week behind the wheel. "I think he's still safe on the road," Forbes said.
Forbes said even though some of his drivers log plenty of extra hours, none exceed the Florida requirements for drivers not being on the roads for more than 12 hours per any one 24 hour period. He added, "We have in our software that dispatched the drivers a flag if that driver approaches the threshold of 12 hours."
The $85,000 driver is on course to drive home with at least that much overtime again this year.
So why doesn't JTA just hire more drivers and cut down the OT? "It wouldn't be feasible, because when you add the fringe benefits and the insurance and the retirement, it's really not feasible," Forbes said.
He said JTA has started hiring some part-time drivers to cut down on some of the overtime.
One of those drivers making more than $70,000 per year is the brother of outgoing JTA CEO Michael Blaylock. Forbes said it's because he has driven the extra miles.
For now, JTA follows state requirements for city bus driver limits, since the feds don't have any. Federal Transit Administration Chief Peter Rogoff said while his agency regulates pilots and some train operators, they are not allowed by law to set limits on city bus drivers.
"There is no federal regulation whatsoever because my agency has been hamstrung by an antiquated 1964 law, that prohibits us from issuing even the most common sense minimum standards for transit agencies across the country," Rogoff said.
There is a bill in Congress that would create federal guidelines for city bus drivers. We will let you know what happens with that bill. There are federal regulations for bus drivers who drive across state lines.
For bus revenue, JTA brings in about $10 million from fares, and around $60 million from your tax dollars.
First Coast News