Guide to European Bus Rental Vehicles
Choosing the right size of a rental vehicle is crucial for a great tour experience. Selecting a vehicle too small can result in discomfort and insufficient luggage space for your multi-day tour, while opting for something too large might lead to unnecessary expenses and limitations due to the size of the vehicle.
Minivans: The Versatile Choice for Smaller Groups
Minivans, commonly known as passenger vans, are a popular choice for groups of up to 9 passengers. In Europe, these vehicles fall under the M1 category, the same classification as small cars, making them an accessible rental option for private individuals. Typical models in this category include the VW Caravelle, Ford Tourneo, and Mercedes Vito or V-Class, often available in 7, 8, or 9-seater configurations.
These minivans are most suitable for groups of up to 8 passengers, including the driver, as the first row of seats is somewhat limited in space and the seats are non-reclinable. Full-size seats are typically found in the second and third rows. For comfort and practicality, it’s advisable to use 9-seater configurations for short transfers rather than multi-day international tours.
While renting minivans with a driver is an option, they are not commonly part of the fleet in bus rental and charter companies across Europe. These vehicles usually operate under a Taxi license, not the blue bus license of the European Community. Therefore, while renting these vehicles with a driver for point-to-point transfers within a country is straightforward, the legislation becomes less clear for international tours covering multiple countries. You are more likely to find these vehicles with local transfer coach companies, which typically hold a taxi license. Conversely, they are less common in international charter companies.
When considering the self-drive option for minivans in Europe, it’s important to take into account both the size of the vehicle and the driving conditions. Navigating the often narrow and intricate European roads can be challenging, especially in urban areas. This task is best suited for drivers who have experience in handling larger vehicles in varied road conditions.
Additionally, parking options for vehicles exceeding 6 meters in length can be quite limited. Drivers need to be particularly vigilant about parking availability and regulations. Another crucial aspect to consider is the prevalence of car-restricted zones, especially in Italian cities. These zones, known as ‘Zona Traffico Limitato’ (ZTL), are common in most larger cities and require special attention to avoid fines and penalties. Awareness and careful planning are key when driving and parking minivans in these areas to ensure a smooth and hassle-free experience.
It’s also worth noting that the 12-seater passenger vans popular in the US are not available for hire in Europe. The largest option for self-drive in Europe is the 9-seater minivan, making it a perfect choice for small groups looking for flexibility and convenience.
Minibuses: Ideal for Small to Medium-Sized Groups
Minibuses offer a versatile solution for groups ranging from 9 to approximately 20-24 passengers. Common models in this category include the Ford Transit, Iveco Daily, Fiat Ducato, and the more tourism-focused Mercedes Sprinters. These vehicles are typically suited for local transfers, such as airport shuttles or journeys under 100 kilometers, as many of them are not equipped with full-size, reclinable bus seats or significant luggage space. For transporting a considerable amount of luggage, a trailer may often be required.
However, the Mercedes Sprinter stands out as an exception, designed specifically for tourism purposes. With robust engines capable of navigating mountainous terrains, these vehicles come in configurations of 16, 20, or 23 seats.
16-Seater Configuration (15 passengers + 1 driver): Some models are designed as VIP versions, offering extra legroom and adequate luggage space.
20-Seater Configuration (19 passengers + 1 tour guide chair + 1 driver): These vehicles are available as standard XL versions with limited luggage space. When nearly full, a luggage trailer may be necessary. The XXL versions feature extended luggage space, often eliminating the need for a trailer. However, it’s important to note that the automatic gear XXL versions cannot be equipped with a trailer hitch.
23-Seater Configuration (22 passengers + 1 tour guide + 1 driver): These are essentially the XXL versions, utilizing the extended rear part of the vehicle for additional seating instead of luggage space.
Mercedes Sprinters, a standout in the minibus category, are well-equipped with a range of tourist-friendly amenities. They typically feature a comfortable seating arrangement of 2+1 seats per row, divided by an aisle, enhancing both comfort and accessibility for passengers. It’s important to note, however, that none of the vehicles in this category, including the Mercedes Sprinters, come equipped with onboard toilets.
In summary, minibuses, particularly models like the Mercedes Sprinter, are an excellent choice for small to medium-sized groups requiring a balance of comfort, space, and versatility for both short local transfers and longer excursions.
Mid-Size Coaches: Navigating Their Niche in the Market
Mid-size coaches, often referred to as midibuses, fill a specific niche in the bus and coach market. Typically, these vehicles accommodate between 20 to 35 passengers. They are less common compared to other bus types, occupying a middle ground in terms of size and capacity. Commonly built on platforms like the Iveco Daily or Mercedes Sprinters, these coaches are significantly heavier. However, one of their limitations is that their engines are often underpowered for their size, and they usually lack adequate luggage space when operating at or near full capacity, with most models not offering the option for a luggage trailer.
The seating configuration in mid-size coaches generally follows the 2+2 arrangement seen in larger coaches, which means these vehicles are considerably wider than standard minibuses. This increased width can lead to access challenges similar to those faced by full-size coaches, particularly in areas with narrow roads or restricted access.
Due to their specific characteristics, most international coach companies opt not to include mid-size coaches in their fleets. The cost of purchasing and operating these vehicles is not significantly lower than that of larger coaches, making them a less economical choice for businesses. However, you might find mid-size coaches in the fleets of local transfer companies, although they are generally not the preferred choice for international tours.
An exception in this category is the Setra 411 HD or 511 HD, known for its excellence. But again, due to its cost, comparable to larger coaches, many companies prefer to invest in larger-capacity vehicles that offer more versatility for a similar price. Therefore, while mid-size coaches have their advantages, they are typically overshadowed by the greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness of either smaller minibuses or larger coaches.
Coaches: The Optimal Choice for Large Groups and Extended Journeys
Full-size coaches, typically accommodating 49 passengers and more, are the ideal choice for larger groups, those requiring extra space, or travelers with a significant amount of luggage. Renowned manufacturers in this segment include Scania, VDL, Volvo, Van Hool, MAN Lions Coach, Neoplan Tourliner (MAN’s premium brand), Mercedes Tourismo, and the prestigious Setra HD series (Mercedes’ premium brand). These brands form the backbone of the fleets for most international coach companies in Europe, with MAN, Mercedes, and Setra being particularly prominent.
These vehicles have been perfected over the years through continuous production and refinement. As a result, there are minimal differences in terms of passenger experience among these brands. The variations are more pronounced from the driver’s perspective, concerning handling and performance. Regardless, each brand offers high standards of comfort, safety, and reliability, making them all excellent choices for extensive touring across Europe.
Summary: Selecting the Ideal Bus for Your Group
Choosing the right bus depends largely on your group size and specific travel needs. For smaller groups, such as families or friends on a budget, an 8-seater self-drive minivan presents an excellent option. It offers both affordability and flexibility. If you prefer not to drive, there’s also the convenience of hiring these vehicles with a driver, relieving you of the driving responsibilities.
For medium-sized groups ranging from 7 to 17 passengers, the Mercedes Sprinter stands out for longer journeys due to its comfort and amenities, while other brand minibuses are well-suited for local transfers. It’s important to note, however, that utilizing these vehicles at their full capacity (20-24 passengers) is generally not recommended unless some passengers are children. Additionally, depending on the amount of luggage, you might need to consider a luggage trailer.
For groups exceeding 17 passengers, mid-size coaches could be a viable option. However, due to the limitations previously discussed, such as their limited availability and the similarity in cost and operation to larger coaches, groups of this size are often better off choosing a full-size coach with 49 or more seats.
A general tip for a more comfortable journey, regardless of the bus type, is to avoid using the vehicle at full seating capacity. Allowing some seats to remain empty can significantly enhance the space and comfort for passengers, making for a more pleasant travel experience.