Ride-hailing apps get kids around town when parents are busy

Sacha Simmons used to dread taking a taxi to her high school or someplace else to hang out with her teenage friends when her parents weren't around to give her a ride. Sometimes, the cab drivers wouldn't show up or, when they did, they were rude or haggled with her about the fare.

Those frustrations disappeared a few months ago when her parents introduced her to Shuddle, a ride-hailing service that caters to youngsters who need a lift when mom and dad are too busy to drive.

“I had some pretty bad experiences with cabs,” Simmons, 16, says. “Shuddle is less of a hassle and I feel safe with their system. The driver knows who I am and it's more secure.”

Shuddle is among a crop of California services providing rides to eight- to 16-year-old kids who need to get to school, a sporting event or a social activity. On Tuesday it introduced ShuddleMe, an app that lets the kids book the ride themselves within an hour of when the service is needed.

Before this, parents had to arrange for the car, and do so at least a day in advance. ShuddleMe still requires parental approval.

Besides Shuddle, kid-friendly ride-hailing options include HopSkipDrive and Boost, an experimental service backed by car maker Mercedes-Benz. Both those services require rides to be booked at least a day in advance.

These alternatives are seizing an opportunity created by better known ride-hailing services such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, which all have policies against giving rides to minors who aren't accompanied by an adult.

Shuddle charges a $9 monthly membership fee and its fares are about 15 percent higher than Uber's for comparable trips. The membership fee and surcharge help pay for background checks of Shuddle's drivers.

The company is trying to avoid the complaints that have bedeviled Uber about inadequately screened drivers. In the most extreme cases, Uber drivers have faced allegations of sexual assault and other unseemly conduct.

Unlike Uber, Shuddle routinely interviews prospective drivers face to face. Its background checks scan courts and other local law enforcement agencies for serious crimes and even minor infractions committed in the areas where they have lived. They also must either be parents or have previous experience working with kids as nannies, baby sitters, coaches or nurses.

Parents can track the progress of their kids' rides and Shuddle says its own staff also monitors what is happening in the cars on each trip.

“We go above and beyond because we want everyone to feel comfortable and confident about what we are doing,” says Shuddle CEO Nick Allen, who previously co-founded Sidecar. “We are safer than the neighborhood car pool.”

Shuddle doesn't run drivers' fingerprints through the FBI's criminal database, however. Allen doesn't consider it to be as effective at flagging problem drivers as the service's other safeguards.

Who's Driving You?, a group representing taxi, limousine and paratransit services, contends Shuddle is asking for trouble by skipping the fingerprint check.

“They are providing rides for the most precious cargo, so why shouldn't they be doing even more to screen their drivers?” says Dave Sutton, a Who's Driving You? spokesman.

Paige Simmons, Sacha's mother, is happy with Shuddle so far. The service sends her photos of both the driver and the car that will be transporting either Sacha or her 15-year-old son Jay. Shuddle also texts her when her children have reached their destination.

“They give me all the information I need to feel comfortable,” says Simmons, who has been spending at least $200 per month booking rides for her kids on Shuddle's original app.

Sacha and Jay often scramble for rides because their mom, an attorney, and father, a shopping mall manager, both work at least 40 minutes away from their Mountain View, California, home.

Jay thinks the ability to hail a ride with an hour's notice on the ShuddleMe app is going to improve his social life.

“I used to be unable to hang out with my friends on short notice because I couldn't get a ride,” Jay says. “This is going to be a lot easier and faster than hassling my parents.”

 

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