When you need to transport between eight and 30 people, a minivan is generally too small and a bus is too big, but renting a minibus, either with a professional driver or to drive yourself, is a viable option. If you are considering renting a minibus, allow yourself as much time as possible to plan, research and make reservations, because cost is not the only factor that must be considered.
Determine whether you need a commercial driver s license to drive a minibus in the state or states in which you intend to travel. The U.S. Department of Transportation mandates a CDL if you are driving a vehicle that carries 16 or more passengers, including the driver. The CDL requirement when driving a vehicle that carries fewer than 16 passengers varies by state, so if this is the case, check the website of the state DMV. In California, for example, you need a CDL to drive a vehicle meant to transport at least 10 passengers, including the driver; and in New Jersey, you need one to drive more than eight people. If you will be driving enough passengers to require a CDL and don t have one or plan to get one, you will either need to hire a driver or change your plans. A convoy of two minivans with two drivers possessing regular driver s licenses might be a good alternative.
Research minibus rental and charter companies that serve your area. National companies offering minibus charters with drivers include US Coachways (uscoachways.com), which operates in 49 states, and BusBank (busbank.com), which serves the entire U.S. and Canada. Companies that rent self-drive minibuses tend to be locally or regionally based. Image Rent a Car (imagerentacar.com), for example, offers rentals of minibuses for eight to 15 passengers in New York and some surrounding states and in Florida. Among major national car rental companies, Avis Rent a Car (avis.com) and Budget (budget.com) both offer 12-seat vans.
Compare the available minibuses, prices, and terms and conditions of the rental company or companies available to you, either online, over the phone or in person. Find out whether the minibuses you are considering are air conditioned and how much luggage space they have. Compare rental prices and the additional cost of insurance. Find out whether a deposit is required and whether it is refundable. Consider mileage limits, minimum rental periods, the amount of notice required to make a reservation and restrictions on the driver, such as a minimum age. Companies may add a surcharge for drivers under 25. Ask about geographic restrictions. BusBank will not allow its minibuses and drivers to travel more than 150 miles, and minibuses rented through Image Rent a Car must remain within New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvannia and Connecticut or within Florida.
Make a reservation as soon as you have finalized your travel plans. An early reservation increases your chances of getting the minibus you want when you need it. At the rental office, carefully read all the paperwork before signing it and making a payment. When you are shown to your minibus, examine the entire body for damage, which should be noted before you leave with the vehicle. If you are driving the minibus yourself, ask about any special handling instructions and familiarize yourself with all the driver s controls. Confirm the type of fuel needed.
Go for a short practice drive to get used to handling the minibus before picking up your passengers. Be aware of the extra weight, height, length and width, and the slower acceleration of the minibus compared to a car. Remember that your blind spot will also be greater and that you need to take extra care when changing lanes and backing up.
Start your journey with a full tank of fuel, and keep your eye on the gas gauge so you can assess how quickly and how often the minibus’s tank will need to be refilled. If your passengers are children who are excited about the trip, brief them before departure about the importance of keeping their seat belts on and remaining seated at all times. Designate a navigator to assist you with directions, if necessary.