The minibus is something of an institution in British society. Whether taking toddlers on their first school outings or ferrying OAPs on day trips, the trusty people carrier provides a crucial service to people of all ages and plays an integral role for a variety of public, private and charitable organisations.
With a new range of Master van conversions coming to the UK market this year, Renault is aiming to build up its presence in the minibus sector with a line-up of 17, nine and six passenger-seat minibuses. The brand has ramped up commercial vehicle sales in recent months and is now turning its sights on non-panel van segments. It is confident it can increase minibus volumes to present more competition to traditional leaders, including Ford and Citroen.
A spokesman said the six- and nine-seaters, which can be driven with a passenger car driving licence, would particularly appeal to taxi services operating in and out of airports and, in the case of the six-seater, to hotels requiring lots of luggage space. Schools, colleges and sports clubs are expected to enlist the 17-seater into service.
Renault has set a conservative estimate of taking 5% of the 5000-strong annual market for 17-seaters and aims to sell 250 of its six- and nine-seat derivative a year, compared to just 100 previously.
Citroen offers the Relay in 12-, 15- or 17-seat minibus guises as part of its Ready to Run scheme with conversions carried out by Advanced Vehicle Builders. Customers can specify access steps and wheelchair ramps as options. The scheme now includes a wheelchair-accessible model built by Tawe Coachbuilders based on the Relay 40 L4 H2. It features Tawe’s M1-compliant Flex-i-Trans floor system, which allows seats to be folded against the sides of the van to create space for passengers to travel in wheelchairs.
Ford’s Transit minibus is not a conversion but produced on the production line. In August last year the brand added a 14-seat, 3.5-tonne minibus to its portfolio. It costs from £25,400 and offers a choice of three 2.4-litre TDCi powertrains delivering 100hp, 115hp or 140hp. Providing they do not charge passengers to travel but operate the vehicle on a ‘non hire and reward’ basis, drivers with a passenger car licence can drive the 14-seater because it does not weigh more than 3.5 tonnes.
Together with the nine-seat shuttle and 12-seat minibus, Ford now has three minibuses available to drivers who do not hold a category D (passenger carrying vehicle) licence. The brand also increased the payload on its 17-seat minibus by 150kg last year to take it from 4.1 tonnes to 4.25 tonnes. Meanwhile, since February 2010, Ford dealers have offered state educational facilities, such as schools and colleges, a preferential discount of up to 17% when they buy a Transit minibus.
Both Ford and Citroen have responded to the extension of the London Low Emission Zone, which will cover 10-year old minibuses not meeting Euro3 emissions standards from January 2012. Citroen is to offer an allowance of £3500 on Relay minibuses as part of its ‘Go Green and Clean Allowance’ in exchange for roadworthy older vans that have become liable for the £100 daily charge. Ford has launched a scrappage scheme for London that enables customers to get a discount of up to £3000 on a Transit minibus.

Legally licenced
If you passed your passenger car driving test before 1 January 1997 you get ‘grandfather rights’, allowing you to drive a minibus with up to 16 passenger seats as long as it is not used for hire or reward. When your licence is renewed (usually at 70 years of age) your minibus entitlement will only be issued following a special application that involves meeting higher medical standards. Drivers who passed their category B (car licence) test after 1 January 1997 are not granted D1 (not for hire or reward entitlement) so can drive only vehicles with fewer than eight passenger seats. However, they can drive a minibus if they are over 21, receive no payment for driving the vehicle, provide the service on a voluntary basis, have held their licence for at least two years and if the vehicle does not weigh more than 3.5 tonnes.
To drive a minibus with at least nine passenger seats for hire, a passenger carrying vehicle (PCV) test must usually be passed for D1 or D entitlement. However, under the minibus permit scheme drivers do not require PCV entitlement to drive a vehicle for hire. The permits are usually given to voluntary and community groups and can be obtained from designated bodies such as local authorities, national charities or the Traffic Commissioners. The service provided must be for members only or for groups the organisation serves. It does not apply to the general public and charges must be on a non-profit basis.