Uber for Junior?
Ride-Hailing Companies Recognize Parents’ Need for Kid-Hauling Help
Here’s a little secret no one tells you about raising children but so help me it’s true: The job is 23 percent parenting and 77 percent schlepping.
From lugging the buggers around in utero to hauling them here and there in Bjorns, slings, wraps, bassinets, and strollers-that-ought-to-have-turn-signals to driving them back and forth to playdates, school, lessons, sporting events, camps, medical appointments, and emergency trips to In-N-Out Burger — being a modern mom or dad is less about shepherding your kids toward adulthood than shuttling them to activities.
Sure, the most terrifying automobile ride you’ll ever take is the one home from the hospital with your firstborn child. It seems the entire world outside of your vehicle is both designed and determined to wreak calamity on the fragile human you’ve just labored to create.
But as the years and the miles roll by, things change. You will eventually discover that your human is not as fragile as you thought. In fact, there will come a time well before he can drive, but long after he stopped being your adorable little passenger, when he will mow through the Altoids in your glovebox, leave Takis wrappers in the cupholder, say “GO!” the instant the light turns green, and reprogram your stereo to stations that only play songs by someone “featuring” someone else (what is that?!). When his friends pile in, too, their “music” blaring, their inside jokes sparking guffaws and their swear words ricocheting off the windows, you will think to yourself, This is probably how Mötley Crüe’s limo driver felt most nights.
So it doesn’t surprise me to learn that parents are hailing rides from Uber and Lyft to ferry their teens around town. “I often use Uber to get my son around, as he is too young to drive and I work full-time,” said one mom I know. “I use it twice a week to get my son to school,” said another. A third told me the drop-off loop at her kid’s high school used to be full of parents’ cars at 3 p.m.; now it’s a row of Uber and Lyft drivers waiting to take students home.
It’s not ideal, though. Both Uber and Lyft have official policies against picking up unaccompanied minors; some drivers do it, but they’re not supposed to. Also, parents don’t feel great about putting their kids in a car with a total stranger; several friends who told me they’d hired rides for their kids followed it up with “but I tracked her phone the whole way!” or “I made him call me the second he got there!”
And now in some metropolitan parts of the country, there’s another option. In California alone, ride-hailing companies designed just for kids have sprung up in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Orange County, and even Ventura. HopSkipDrive, for example, vets its drivers within an inch of their lives, requires drivers to give code words in order to pick up kids, and texts parents when the kids arrive at their destinations. The drivers will even sign children out of an activity, if need be. All that safety doesn’t come cheap, of course. A ride from my home to my nearby office costs $6-$7 via Uber or Lyft and would be $18 on HopSkipDrive.
I’ve been lucky. My son has been walking home from his neighborhood schools for the last four years. But he starts high school in the fall at a campus that’s eight freeway exits away from our house. If we can’t find a carpool or manageable city bus schedule, his dad and I will have to spend an additional hour on the road each day. I’ve had legit fantasies of semi-boarding the kid at the homes of friends who live near the school and just bringing him home on weekends.
Hey, maybe that’s the next new gig-economy business model opening up to parents: People brave enough to rent out rooms to out-of-district adolescents who have long since ceased to be fragile or adorable, but who cannot yet schlep themselves to class. They could call it SwearBnB.