If you’ve ever struggled to shuffle your child from school to sports or other extracurricular activities, a growing number of apps are designed to give you a hand with that — so long as you’re OK with them riding with strangers.
HopSkipDrive, Zūm, and Kango are part of a growing trend of parent-owned ride-hail apps designed specifically for families. Their number one target market? Working parents who can’t always leave their jobs in the middle of the day to pick up kids from school and take them to soccer practice or dentist appointments. According to one study, nearly 40 percent of parents spend over 5 hours per week driving their kids to activities. Further, “2 out of 3 working parents say having to drive their kids somewhere disrupts their work on a regular basis,” with many reporting feeling like their kids’ transportation needs have put their jobs at risk.
Unlike drivers for ride-share companies such as Uber and Lyft, most of the companies that cater to driving kids around require drivers to have child care experience, and most screen drivers more carefully than their mainstream counterparts.
While some parents will scoff at the idea of placing their children in the car with a stranger, parents who use these apps are quick to point out that even a school bus driver is technically a stranger. When there are field trips, parents trust schools and teachers to hire responsible drivers, but parents rarely meet them, either. Kids also go home from school with friends’ parents for playdates and in many cases the parents haven’t always met before the child is picked up for the first time.
The apps’ founders are hoping their commitment to additional vetting processes and the tracking capability provided will help to ease parents’ concern. “Every parent is going to be naturally skeptical, and we built it with that in mind,” said Joanna McFarland, CEO and co-founder of HopSkipDrive, to The Washington Post. “As a parent, you may not know your child’s friends’ parents or you may not know who the bus driver is. It’s really no different, but with this you have that tracking capability, and you know they’ve gone through that vetting process.”
Apps offer safety features and options for convenience
HopSkipDrive drivers wear bright orange T Shirts, go through a 15-step verification process, and parents are allowed to view each driver’s profile. It also allows you to schedule recurring rides for regular practices or music lessons, and allows for carpooling, so you and another family or two can split the cost of each ride. Parents can also see how other families have rated drivers. Children must be at least six years old to ride, and use an agreed-upon code word to further ensure the right driver picks them up. Fees depend on time, mileage, and the number of riders. It operates in five states as well as the Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia metro.
Zūm offers single and recurring rides, the latter for a monthly fee. Rides have to be scheduled 24 hours in advance and children must be at least five years old to ride. They also allow you to set up carpools with other families. They seem to have the most extensive vetting process. All drivers must be at least 21, have at least three years of childcare experience, a clean driving record for the past three years, and own a 2009 or newer 4-door car in “great shape.” They also must submit to fingerprinting, background checks, sex offender record checks, and social security number validation. Only 1 in 5 applicants are accepted, something they hope puts parents at ease.
Started by two former Snapfish executives, Kango is the only app we know of that will pick up babies, but a caregiver must accompany all children under 2. They provide childcare and rides throughout the San Francisco Bay area, and their drivers must submit to both background checks and fingerprinting. Many of their drivers are other parents, babysitters, and teachers looking to make extra money.
Kango allows parents to meet a driver before a ride, so they’re more comfortable, but HopSkipDrive and Zum do not. All companies say their drivers are trained in how to safely buckle kids into booster seats.
Once overcoming the hurdles of trust and limited areas of availability, the main downside appears to be cost — the background checks and added benefits of kid-focused rideshare apps can add up, with some rides estimated at 3 times the cost you’d see on Uber or Lyft. Since so many families struggle to find a reasonable way to balance work, their children’s schedules, and other obligations, however, it’s not surprising that more and more companies are entering this market — and with competition, one hopes, will come more competitive prices. While each family needs to decide what they’re comfortable with, many are finding that companies like these can really make family life much less stressful.