By Jennifer Van Grove San Diego Union-Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) With "HopSkipDrive", parents can book rides for their kids "UberStyle" via a mobile app. Guardians receive mini progress reports, by way of smartphone notifications along the way.
San Diego Union-Tribune
HopSkipDrive, an Uber-like ride-hail service that only transports minors, has arrived in San Diego to help area parents get their kids to and from school, soccer practice or the myriad of other activities that often conflict with work schedules.
The 4-year-old, venture-backed company started its local operations last week, servicing families throughout San Diego County.
Parents can book rides for their dependents at least eight hours in advance using HopSkipDrive's mobile app or website.
The service then pairs the child with a vetted "caredriver," who works as an independent contractor. Guardians receive mini progress reports, by way of smartphone notification, at every juncture, including ride confirmation and driver photo, and pick-up and drop-off updates. Or they can follow the ride live in real time.
Private rides start at $16 per trip, but parents can share costs by teaming up in carpools, which can reduce the fare to as little as $7 per child. HopSkipDrive rides can be booked for the next day or following week, or even the entire school year.
"As working moms, we were dying," said Joanna McFarland, co-founder and CEO of the Los Angeles-based transportation company. McFarland started the company with fellow moms Carolyn Yashari Becher and Janelle McGlothlin. Between them, the mothers have eight kids who attend five different schools and participate in more than 20 after-school activities.
"From the beginning, we thought about it what would it take for us to put our kids in a HopSkipDrive car."
The trio settled on a multifaceted approach to safety where drivers undergo a detailed background check that includes fingerprinting and requires five years of care-giving experience. There's also an in-house team that monitors rides as they're happening.
Plus, code words are employed to ensure that kids only get into cars with the right adults, and schools are often included in the transportation loop as partners with the startup. Parents can also coordinate their own HopSkipDrive carpools with friends, which may add to their comfortable level.
Even still, asking a mom to tell her wee one to get into a foreign vehicle with an unknown person contradicts the stranger-danger concept that so many parents teach their youngsters.
"My first reaction was, whoa," said George Belch, a marketing professor at San Diego State University. "Our kids are our most precious resource. ... This is one market that I thought might have been off limits."
But, he reasoned, parents today want their kids to be involved in so many different activities and the San Diego lifestyle typically requires a dual-income household. Practically speaking, then, he said he could see HopSkipDrive doing well here. Adults who already take Lyft and Uber have a higher built-in comfort level with these kinds of app-based conveniences, Belch added.
Southern California investors have bought into the concept. HopSkipDrive has raised $22 million in financing to date, with sizable contributions from Greycroft, Upfront Ventures and Firstmark Capital. Student Transportation Inc., a school bus contractor, is also a strategic investor.
It claims to have completed over 450,000 trips to schools, suggesting that moms and dads have accepted the app-based kid conveyance system into their modern lifestyles.
Part of the reason, explained HopSkipDrive CEO McFarland, is that families are often scrambling to make school pickups work for their schedules, and hiring an often equally expensive babysitter to do the job doesn't always work given the very specific time constraints.
"You might need somebody at 2:30 on Monday and 4:30 on Friday," McFarland said. "It's hard to find somebody to commit to the times that you need."
Plus the service, she said, has a perfect safety track record.
In addition to San Diego, HopSkipDrive operates in Los Angeles, Orange County, the Bay Area and Denver.