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Money tips: Kid cab alternatives: HopSkipDrive, Shuddle, Boost and more

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Ride sharing services such as Uber and Lyft are growing in popularity. However, there is an even larger need for transportation that Uber and Lyft do not address — hassled soccer moms and dads and dual-income families with younger children. Conflicts with daycare or the constant need to drive children off to events keeps these families on edge, and occasionally forces parents to miss work or make other unpleasant compromises.

Uber and Lyft cannot help here even if they are available in your area, because you must be over 18 to use the service by yourself (although some parents reportedly do bend these rules). Without alternatives, parents tend to form helping groups, carpools, or other cooperatives to fill the gap.

Three working moms in Los Angeles recently had the idea: why not produce an equivalent to Uber/Lyft focused on kids? This idea morphed into HopSkipDrive, a service currently available in the Los Angeles area but considering expansion to other locations.

As of this writing, the cost of the service is $12-$20 per ride based on various package pricing within a five-mile radius and thirty minutes in driving time. Beyond the five-mile radius, per-mile rates from $0.50 to $1 are charged. That may sound outrageous in the Midwest, but in urban areas like Los Angeles it is not far removed from the cost of a cab or a ride-sharing alternative.

Parents set up rides 24 hours in advance so they can be aware of whom their driver will be. Parents get a picture and profile of the driver, information on the car, and a simple code word for the child to remember. The driver, in an orange HopSkipDrive T-shirt, gives the child the code word to verify they are picking up the correct child. A corresponding app provides real-time updates to placate parents.

HopSkipDrive aims to avoid the bad press generated by a few bad Uber drivers by maintaining strict driver requirements for their staff, known as CareDrivers. At least five years of childcare experience is required, as well as a clean driving record with no points on the license. Drivers must pass an extensive screening and background check and then pass a rigorous training process. Even the cars are inspected. As CEO and cofounder Joanna McFarland said, "Our drivers are hand-picked by picky moms. We do a lot more than most people do when they are picking their nanny."

Up the California coast, the Bay Area offers two alternatives — maybe. Shuddle is a similar service that charges a $9 monthly membership fee along with a fare based on a distance and time formula and a minimum fare of $12. Most of the policies are similar to HopSkipDrive, but Shuddle focuses on one advantage: advance booking times as short as one hour.

As of this writing, Shuddle is dealing with a regulatory compliance issue. Shuddle performed screening and face-to-face interviews, but did not run driver's fingerprints through the FBI database as part of a background check. After receiving a cease-and-desist order from the California Public Utilities Commission, Shuddle began processing their drivers through Trustline for verification as required by California law.

On Nov. 3, a public relations firm issued a statement on behalf of Shuddle confirming the company is using Trustline and favors comprehensive background checks. The statement said the company "exceeds current regulations by a wide margin (and that all) drivers undergo a thorough screening process which spans beyond the state of California to include multiple federal, state, and local databases."

In addition, the statement listed the following steps the company takes for passenger security:

  • Comprehensive background checks at the national, state and local level
  • Face-to-face interviews and training
  • Employment suitability and reference checks for childcare experience
  • Thorough identity verification

The other Bay Area alternative is Boost, a ride-sharing service backed by Mercedes-Benz. It's a bit more expensive, with one-way rides starting at $22, and is currently located in the Palo Alto area. You must sign up for an account and schedule rides 48 hours in advance.

Look for expansion of these services and new competitors into other urban areas. There's plenty of venture capital money betting that these services will become as popular as Uber someday.


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