The minibus plays an integral role in a wide range of public, private and charitable organisations.
Whether serving construction companies, schools and colleges, sports clubs or taking old-age pensioners on outings, the minibus is the people carrier par excellence.
What operators require is a sturdy workhorse that is safe, reliable, comfortable, rides and handles well and is cost-effective to run.
The Ford Transit ticks all the boxes and for 2011 has retained its crown as What Van? Minibus of the Year.
The Transit, which is not a conversion but produced on the assembly line as a Minibus, has led the charge to fill the gap in the market that the demise of LDV created. For example, state educational establishments can take advantage of a preferential discount of up to 17% when purchasing a Transit Minibus from Ford dealers across the UK.
The Blue Oval markets the Transit Minibus as a nine-, 12- 15 or 17-seater, as well as the new 14-seater launched recently – the largest minibus that can be driven on a car licence. All models other than the nine-seater are fitted with speed limiters, and the largest version is available with the option of a high roof as well as a medium-height roof.
The two smallest derivatives are front-wheel drive and driven by a 2.2-litre Duratorq diesel engine developing 110 or 140hp. Both are mated to a six-speed manual gearbox.
The two biggest versions are rear-wheel drive. They take a 2.4-litre Duratorq TDCi generating 100, 115 or 140hp and are again coupled with a six-speed gearbox.
The 15-seater is also offered with the Transit 4x4 system, which could be handy for operators based in remote, rural locations.
Electronic Stability Programme is standard (apart from on the 4x4 version) and includes a hill-hold device to stop the van rolling backwards when pulling away on a slope.
Seats on all models are fitted with lap and diagonal belts, and adjustable headrests.
The three largest models come with a Schedule 6 pack, which provides a fire extinguisher, a grab handle to ease entry through the sliding side passenger door, an illuminated anti-slip step and a first-aid kit. All models meet M1 passenger- car safety standards.
Transit Minibuses also come with two batteries – one to start the engine and one to power any equipment used when the van is stationary. The Transit line-up also includes a pair of smaller, upmarket people- carriers – the eight- and nine-seater Tourneos.
The Transit Minibus does not have it all its own way.
Once again picking up our Highly Commended accolade is the Citroen Relay. Available with 12, 15 or 17 seats, the Relay is a conversion carried out by Advanced Vehicle Builders as part of the manufacturer’s Ready to Run scheme.
Available options include access steps and a wheelchair ramp. A recent addition to the Ready to Run range is a wheelchair-accessible minibus built by Tawe Coachbuilders. Based on the Citroen Relay 40 L4 H2, it features Tawe’s M1-compliant Flex-i-Trans floor system to enable the seats to be folded against the sidewall, creating space to transport people in wheelchairs.