By Andrea Leinfelder Houston Chronicle
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Female founded "HopSkipDrive," helps parents juggle the logistics of work, school drop-offs and after-school activities. Think Uber for busy moms and dads.
One kid has soccer practice. Another is late to ballet lessons. And you're stuck on a conference call.
A service to help solve such parental predicaments has come into Houston, offering a ride-hailing platform to pick up the kids when you can't. The company, HopSkipDrive of Los Angeles, hires vetted caregivers to drive children 6 and older at the click of an app.
HopSkipDrive, now operating in 10 U.S. markets, aims to help parents juggle the logistics of work, school drop-offs and after-school activities and get everybody where they need to be when they need to be there.
The company, founded in 2014, hires drivers with at least five years of caregiving experience and vets them with a 15-point certification process that includes fingerprinting, driving record reviews and background checks using FBI and Department of Justice databases.
Rides are booked at least eight hours in advance or by 7 p.m. the night before for morning rides. Parents receive a photo of the driver to show their children and to share with the school. Drivers are given a code word that the child will recognize to know it's safe to get in the car. And parents can track the ride in real time with a mobile app.
"We thought long and hard about it and really designed it for our kids," said Joanna McFarland, co-founder and CEO of HopSkipDrive and the mother of two boys. "What would it take for me to use HopSkipDrive?"
And she does use it. Her sons, 8 and 11, play soccer, baseball, basketball and guitar and take karate lessons. It's a picture of the modern household -- where everyone is busier than ever before.
HopSkipDrive and similar services, such as VanGo, which also operates in Houston, are part of a societal shift of paying for services that in the past may have been done by neighbors, friends or family, said Utpal Dholakia, a marketing professor at Rice University.
The spread of these and other on-demand services also show people's increased comfort with using a product but not owning it, even if it means giving up some control and trusting strangers to provide these products or services.
"It's the next logical extension to how comfortable we are to accessing services as opposed to having more control over them," he said. "Our norms of what is acceptable to ask for and what is acceptable to pay for, those norms have shifted and have continued to shift."
For McFarland, part of the reason she started HopSkipDrive is she felt like the "taker mom." Struggling to get her sons to and from school and their various activities, she was always asking for favors and not able to reciprocate due to her job. She also said many parents don't live near relatives who can help with the children, and it can be difficult to hire consistent drivers when activities end at different times each day of the week.
"They say it takes a village, and sometimes you have to extend that village a little bit," she said.
James Pua used HopSkipDrive this week in Houston. He's a nurse who works 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and he needed someone to take his daughters, Lilie, 12, and Silvea, 10, to school.
He likes the code word as an added layer of security, and his daughters like having a private chauffeur.
"The driver was really friendly," he said. "They were very professional."
HopSkipDrive rides start at $17 and increase based on time and distance, which the company said is comparable to the hourly rate of a driving babysitter. The drivers can do multiple stops, dropping off siblings at different activities. There's also a carpool option, in which families can invite other families they know to share the ride.
In Houston, drivers' average earnings are more than $25 an hour, according to HopSkipDrive. The company has about 100 drivers in Houston and is adding more every day. About 95 percent of the drivers are women.
McFarland said HopSkipDrive can be a better ride-hailing platform for women to make additional money.
"Safety works on both sides of the platform," she said. "They don't have to drive late at night. They don't have to drive drunk people. And because it's pre-scheduled, they can really plan their day."
In addition to busy families, HopSkipDrive works with more than 170 schools and districts nationwide to transport students who aren't on a bus route and have other special circumstances, such as children in homeless shelters or foster care. Several school districts in Greater Houston are using HopSkipDrive to transport students and combat absenteeism by providing reliable transportation.
HopSkipDrive operates in Arizona, California, Colorado the Washington, D.C., area and Northern Virginia. It will become available in Dallas in the coming weeks. HopSkipDrive is a venture capital-backed company that has raised $27 million. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.