New Rideshare Service Offers Kid-Friendly Uber Alternative

Hop Skip Drive - H 2015
Courtesy of HopSkipDrive

Hop Skip Drive - H 2015

HopSkipDrive presents a solution for L.A. parents as some schools crack down on the use of Uber and Lyft

As rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft continue to grow in popularity, it should come as no surprise that some customers have found an unofficial use for them: as a proxy chauffeur for their kids.

Although Uber officially prohibits minors from riding without an adult (Lyft simply requires the ride request to be made by a parent or guardian), the practice is an open secret. “It’s so done all the time,” says one Hollywood parent. “When parents have more than one child and can’t be at all places [at the same time], it makes sense.”

Uber is especially popular for taking teenagers home from late-night parties. One parent hosting an afterparty for a Westside school dance recently handed out Uber certificates to departing guests, according to another parent. But amid rising general safety accusations and ethics complaints about Uber, some parents – and schools – are beginning to balk at the idea of using the service to ferry their kids.

Windward School on the Westside sent a letter to parents late last year reminding them that minors are not to ride Uber unattended, while Lisa Johnson, director of communications at North Hollywood’s Campbell Hall Episcopal, says the school tries to enforce Uber’s no-minors policy.

Enter HopSkipDrive, a rideshare service geared specifically for transporting kids. Launched in November by three working moms, HopSkipDrive vets its drivers with a 15-point process that involves extensive background checks (including sex-offender registry and DMV record monitoring), ride-along interviews and a requirement of at least five years of child-care experience (being a parent counts!). Unlike Uber and Lyft, which operate on-demand, HopSkipDrive rides are scheduled in advance, so that parents, kids and schools know exactly who will be picking the child up.

“This is a city with a lot of public figures, and security is very tight at these schools,” co-founder and COO Carolyn Yashari Becher tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We can provide a photo, license plate information, driver’s license information – whatever school security needs in advance.”

Parents and HopSkipDrive’s live customer support track rides – which  only can be requested by parents – in real-time, including monitoring maximum speed and whether the driver has used her phone at all during the ride. The service, which so far has spread from South Pasadena to the Hollywood Hills,  employs more than 25 drivers servicing hundreds of account holders. Becher and her team are meeting with about 25 drivers a week in preparation for a full-scale Westside expansion, scheduled for March 20.

“The Westside uses Uber and Lyft for their kids more than anyone else in the city, and we want to be able to meet that need,” she says.

HopSkipDrive is in the final weeks of its free pilot stage, after which single rides will max out at $20 for one-way transports within a five-mile radius (longer rides will be charged $1 for each additional mile). But parents can prepurchase a package of up to 50 rides, which lowers the per-ride cost.

Westside parent Laurice Bell is looking forward to trying out the service. She has used Uber to pick up her two teenage children but now is nervous letting her 14-year-old daughter Martha use it. Bell tells THR that one of her friends, a recognizable actress, had an Uber driver hang around outside her house after dropping off her 15-year-old daughter, and Martha herself has reported riding in an Uber car with an erratic driver.

“When [Uber] came out, it seemed like, ‘Wow, there’s this answer to everything!’ But as I’ve heard more stories, I almost feel like [my daughter]’s safer taking a public bus because there are people around, ” Bell says. “I know a lot of parents who feel similarly, so a lot of people are actually going to [HopSkipDrive] because they feel like these drivers are vetted. Certainly nothing’s perfect, and you have to at some point let your kids grow up – but maybe not yet.”