Sometimes your kid just needs a ride somewhere, not a sitter to watch them. In the age of the smartphone, there’s an app for that – if you happen to live in a city where it’s available.
Apps like HopSkipDrive, GoKart, Zum, and Kango, among others, are essentially Uber for kids. They offer all the convenience of a typical rideshare app, plus a thorough vetting process to ensure your child’s safety. Shannon Stacy, the North Carolina single mom who founded GoKart, describes her company as a combination of Uber and Care.com.
With an emphasis on safety, rideshare services for kids take special care to screen drivers. Zum, a rideshare company serving Orange County and the San Francisco Bay area, boasts a vetting process featuring a 20-point vehicle inspection, National level FBI and Department of Justice background checks, and a requirement that drivers have at least three years of childcare experience. According to their website, only one in five applicants make it through the screening process to become a driver.
Kango, available in the Bay Area, performs a rigorous screening process, along with offering parents a free advance meeting or ride-along with any potential driver.
Hop Skip Drive, serving Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Francisco, prides itself on thorough vetting coupled with Zendrive, a technology that monitors driver behavior to help deter drivers from texting or talking while your child is in the car.
Rideshare services designed for younger passengers provide, not just convenient, safe transportation, but other “extras” as well. In addition to driving your kids, Kango provides babysitting and lets you request a specific driver, whether that’s someone a friend recommends, or one you’ve used previously and already know and trust.
Though HopSkipDrive does not offer childcare, upon request, their “caredrivers” will give you all the necessary information so you can authorize them to pick your child up from school or any other activity. Zum, which offers rides and childcare to kids of all ages, provides car seats and booster seats upon request at no additional charge.
For those who can afford it, kid-centric rideshare services are a godsend, particularly for younger children. Chantay Bridges is a Los Angeles realtor who relies on HopSkipDrive to help ferry her many nieces, nephews, and godchildren who frequently stay with her. Between schedules and traffic, using a rideshare is often her only sane option.
Bridges says she’s gotten to know the drivers who work in her area. “I love that it feels like I’m not handing them over to a stranger, but a friend.”
That friendship comes at a price, however. HopSkipDrive’s website advertises a minimum rate of $16 per ride in the Los Angeles area. In contrast, an Uber ride in the same area may cost as little $5.60. Though Bridges feels HopSkipDrive is worth the price due to the extensive background checks required of their drivers, she noted that she’s had to figure it into her monthly budget as the cost accumulates quickly. For the kids who are over 12, she relies on Uber instead.
Bridges is not the only parent who sometimes chooses Uber when another option is available. Though GoKart launched in her area a year ago, Raleigh North Carolina attorney Katy Chavez lets her daughter take an Uber. Now 16, she has been using Uber since she was 12. Says Chavez, “It was a game changer for me when I discovered how useful [Uber] could be to get her to activities.”
While some parents have the luxury to choose what type of rideshare service makes sense for their kids, most do not. If the price isn’t a limitation, availability may be. While services aimed at kids are gaining a toehold in the Bay Area, Orange County, and the Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham markets, they’re not available in most cities.
Living in Miramar, FL, Lakeshia Hyatt’s only options are Uber or Lyft when her 12-year-old daughter needs a ride. Hyatt says she feels comfortable with those services because, like those designed specifically for kids, the Uber and Lyft apps allow her to see “who is driving her, where exactly they are, and what kind of car they are in.”
Though Uber and Lyft do allow parents to see where and with whom their kids are driving, rideshare expert and Uber driver Harry Campbell, (a.k.a. The Rideshare Guy) says if he had a teenage daughter, he wouldn’t be comfortable with her using Lyft or Uber.
An expectant dad himself, Campbell points to lax background checks, explaining that while the companies run online background checks, “there’s no in-person verification of identity. The process also varies by state, so there isn’t a clear set of guidelines. Some states require yearly refreshes of background checks, while others don’t.”
Not only that, but Uber recently made headlines over an $8.9 million dollar fine issued by Colorado regulators due to faulty background checks. As many as 57 drivers whose driving records should have prohibited them from driving – including some with recent drunk driving convictions – slipped through the cracks.
According to the terms of service posted on their websites, neither Uber nor Lyft drivers are permitted to drive an unaccompanied minor. Most drivers (including two of my recent Lyft drivers) aren’t aware of this stipulation. While chatting with Lillith, a Denver area Lyft driver, I learned she had recently given two 15-year-olds a ride. She seemed surprised to learn that this was against her company’s policy.
Says Campbell, “Drivers who get requests from minors are also put in a tough position because they often spend time waiting for a ride, driving to a pickup point, only then to discover that the rider is underage. And at that point, you can cancel the ride, but you won’t always get compensated for your trouble.”
Many parents feel their only choice is to endure the inconvenience of driving their kids to their extracurriculars while hoping a rideshare app pops in their city sooner rather than later. This is certainly the case for Diedre Pai, a Colorado mom who works part-time. Pai spends hours every week shuttling her kids to their activities – time she wishes she could spend working, so she could be with her kids on the afternoons they’re free.
She’s tried carpools but feels they’re too unreliable. When it comes to hiring a sitter, Pai says, “Most of our activities are 15 to 20 minutes away, and I would be paying someone to drive and then sit. For a one-hour activity that’s $30. I would love to have a completely safe, vetted adult drive my child and drop them off.”
Should Pai and parents like herself keep their fingers crossed? Campbell feels rideshare apps for kids may never reach a national market given the stringent requirements for drivers and the higher operating costs. But he says, “I do think they’ll be able to thrive in affluent communities across the country.”
So, depending on your location and your budget, it may not be unreasonable to hope.