Most people know a minibus as a “van with seats and windows”, but they are little more involved than that.
When it comes to finding the right vehicle it is important to consider the different components that make up a minibus in order to identify a vehicle that meets your needs as closely as possible.
It may be possible to find an “off the shelf” OE manufactured minibus that meets your requirements, or you might find a model from a range produced by a UK convertor, but if you can’t that means you will need to have one built especially for you – its not as outlandish as it sounds, in fact it is the norm for all but the most simple transport applications.
The 5 component that make up a minibus are:
- Base vehicles
For any passenger vehicle, people are the prime consideration. The number of people you want to carry is important as it will dictate the size of the minibus you require. In addition to the number, there are other important questions we need to consider.
What is the passengers level of mobility?
What is the purpose of their journey?
Who, other than passenger need to be accommodated? (Escort / Carer / Crew)
Will they take anything with them?
The choice of base vehicle will largely be dictated by the load it needs to carry – both size and weight. Most manufacturers build models that can accommodate the majority of passenger requirements. The only exceptions are at the extremes – the smallest and largest applications may only be accommodated successfully by a handful of models.
After size and weight there are a number of considerations: drive orientation (FWD, RWD 4×4), gearbox type, engine size, options for benefit of conversion and options for the benefit of vehicle operation
When it comes to producing a minibus these need to be selected after understanding the requirements of the conversion. It may be size required reduces the available base vehicle choices to exclude certain options.
For some, brand will be the first consideration either because they represent the brand or have brand dictated for another reason ie committee will only buy a Ford. It is always possible to get a minibus sized vehicle to fit on any brand as long as some of the other components can be compromised on – specifically different types of access for passengers.
The type of access required on a minibus will be dictated by the mobility needs of the passengers.
For example a minibus for able bodies school children would be fine with a standard step and grab handle.
A vehicle for adults with more challenging mobility needs would probably need upgraded steps and handrails at the nearside entrance and a tail lift at the rear.
Going from standard access to improved access on a vehicle is an indication that your needs can’t be met by an “off the shelf” product. If this is the case you will be better off talking with a minibus specialist who will be able to find or design the right vehicle for your needs
In addition to knowing how many people will be carried on a vehicle, we need to consider how they and anything they bring with them will be accommodated.
People come in all shape and sizes, as do the seats and wheelchairs they need to be accommodated on.
Space in a minibus is at a premium so it is important to weigh requirements for the passengers with limitations of the base vehicle.
Seats need to be right for the task at hand, the intended type of journeys should really dictate the level of comfort required.
Wheelchair restraints need to be easy to use and easy to store. The space for the wheelchair needs to be adequate to be comfortable for the passenger and allow the driver / escort to restrain the wheelchair and the occupant securely without them being hindered.
Anything brought on by passengers, or carried for the benefit of passengers also needs a home. On a minibus with maximum passenger capacity there is rarely any space left over. If you are likely to need storage on a vehicle this needs to be considered at the outset. You may find that you need a slightly larger vehicle to ensure passengers and luggage / equipment can all be carried comfortably and safely.
Comfort on a minibus can be addressed in a variety of ways. Wider seating trimmed in the right material, a properly restrained wheelchair and a suitable passenger restraint all count towards making a passenger more comfortable. These aspects should be considered when specifying seat types and wheelchair provision.
One of the key areas to providing Comfort on a minibus is providing ventilation and a means of controlling the temperature.
Ventilation on a minibus is provided by opening windows and roof vents.
There is no minimum standard for ventilation and so on a basic minibus only the cab windows provide any circulation of air.
For many customer types additional ventilation is seen as a necessity, but the number and type of windows or vents needs to be considered and should form part of your specification.
Ventilation options on a minibus are usually: sliding windows; coach style opening vents, fixed vents, spinning and electric vents which may all be specified either on their own or in conjunction with sliding windows and coach style roof vents.
The standard base vehicle heating system can provide heat to the whole vehicle. That said, due to the volume of air in a large vehicle it would take a long time for the passenger at the rear of the vehicle to feel any benefit.
Additional heating may be specified in the form of diesel fired heaters. These provide heating which is independent of the base vehicle system.
Various power outputs are available the most suitable of which is determined by the size of the vehicle and the frequency of opening and closing doors.
In addition to ventilation and heating it is possible to add air conditioning. Whilst it can be prohibitively expensive, a system appropriate for the size of the vehicle can provide the same cooling function found in a modern car. However please note: Systems come with differing capabilities. A unit suitable for a mini will not be adequate for a full size 17 seat minibus.
If the unit is not of a sufficient size, at the source you will feel cold air but it will not have the capacity to reduce the temperature to the whole vehicle.
The difference between having cold air at source versus providing a specific temperature throughout the vehicle extends to thousands. If that does sound prohibitively expensive then consider adding forms of ventilation at a less expensive alternative