In Las Vegas — a city that relies on gamblers losing more often than they win — Bell Trans has beaten the odds by gambling heavily on transportation services.
Brent Bell, president of Bell Trans, operates a five-tiered transportation company: charter buses, limousines, taxis, airport transportation service and trolleys.
The charter bus service started in 1983 as an addition to the company’s successful limousine service. “We basically saw a demand for buses with our limousine clients,” Bell says. “We started off with one bus, and now we’re up to 115.”
Bell Trans employs 500 bus drivers, a third of its total employee roster, and each driver is cross-trained. “I don’t have just bus drivers or just limousine drivers,” says Bell. “Our drivers are expected to drive both pieces of equipment.”
Bell Trans’ bus fleet consists of 20-passenger buses, mainly Champions and Federals built on Ford’s E-450 cutaway chassis.
Blooming in the desert
“We’re very fortunate to be in a town like Las Vegas,” Bell says. “Tourism has grown, and our business has grown right along with it. We’ve just done the best job we could to efficiently keep up with this town.”
“Keeping up” has required more than just providing limousines and buses to meet existing demand. “We try to service a diverse market,” says Bell. “We do everything with our buses from bachelor and bachelorette parties to convention work, hotel and parking lot shuttles, golf tournaments, tours and airport service. You name it, we’ll do it.”
The only transportation service Bell does not supply is out-of-state charters. “We leave that to other people,” he says. “If clients wish to travel out of state, then we farm out to other operators.”
In addition to the charter bus service, the company operates 240 limousines and 16 trolleys that run along the Vegas strip. The trolley’s ridership is about 5,000 passengers a day.
Drivers play key role
At Bell Trans, bus and limousine drivers are required to have a professional appearance and the will to become service-oriented employees. If they fit the bill, these prospects receive valuable on-board training. “If they don’t have their CDL, we have an instructor to help them get it,” Bell says.
Drivers also attend a mandatory four-day course that includes safety training, company policies and procedures and coverage of other administrative/operational matters. If a driver is involved in an accident and the company decides to keep that employee, he or she is required to attend a remedial training class reinforcing safety procedures.
There are incentives for drivers to remain accident-free. “We provide them with watches for safe driving,” says Bell. Cash rewards based on the amount of time and miles a driver goes accident-free accompany the watches.
Other employee benefits include health insurance, a 401(k) plan and shift bids. “We do a shift bid every six months, which allows our drivers to change their work days or time through a bidding process,” Bell says.
Bell Trans also allows its drivers to change vehicles every six months. “If they’re normally a bus driver and getting a little bit up in age and are tired of lugging baggage and want to drive a limousine, we’ll let them do that,” says Bell.
As for compensation, drivers start off at 25% commissions. After six months, they’ll go to 30%, and their benefit plan goes into effect. At five years of service, drivers have the potential to earn 32.5% commissions.
Drivers keep 100% of their gratuities.
Simple marketing plan
When it comes to marketing, Bell Trans’ formula for success is quite simple. Eliminate the expense of extraneous advertising by making your business advertise itself.
“We don’t do a lot of advertising. We use the phone book and a couple of local magazines, and that’s pretty much it,” Bell says. “We just try to provide clean buses that are on time. That’s usually the best advertising we can do.”
Helping to build its exposure and contribute to the community, Bell Trans also donates its services to non-profit organizations. “We’re very proud of our relationship with Project Sunshine, where we provide transportation for five different summer camps,” Bell says. “One of the five camps caters to children with cancer; another is for children with potentially fatal diseases.”
Bell also provides charitable services to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Challenged by events
Percentages of overall ridership at Bell Trans have been down this year by a couple of points, says Bell, and that’s mainly because of the war with Iraq.
“All of the Vegas tourist numbers are down, which means our numbers are down too,” Bell says, although he is still optimistic about the future of tourism. “Now that the war is over, we’re seeing some trends of people starting to come back to Vegas.”
Although Bell doesn’t see anything unique about his company, he is proud of the company’s low fares. “We operate our charter buses at $41 an hour for a 20-passenger bus,” he says. “We try to keep that rate down and that’s what allows us to attract an assortment of different customers.”
For customers who require nicer equipment — high-back seats, stereo/CD players and nice upholstery, for example — Bell offers nine buses with these amenities.
“We’re able to cover the whole spectrum, from the low-end basic 20-passenger bus all the way up to the $90,000 limo bus with all the fancy gadgets,” Bell explains. “We try to make sure that our customers don’t have to go anywhere else to get what they need.”