Neither Uber nor Lyft let children ride alone, but a string of startups are catering for busy parents who need help transporting their children. Will the future bring more specialist ride-hailing services?
When American rapper Reiona Oliver – AKA GameOva Reedy – was arrested in April 2019 for using a ride-hailing service to send her five-year-old son to school alone, she opened a debate parents might soon need to address – if legality was assured, would they let their child use a similar service without being accompanied by an adult?
Any move in this direction isn’t likely to be simple. Parents will need lots of reassurance. At the very least, they’ll need details on the driver, information on safeguarding, and the ability to track or somehow oversee the ride.
But even if these critical questions can be answered, is there room for a mobility service specifically aimed at children?
Well, it seems that vacancy is already filled. HopSkipDrive is a US ride-hailing service created for children ages six to 18, and one of a growing number of specialist mobility services bidding for that niche area where parents need help ferrying around their offspring.
Small and safe
These businesses can’t match Uber or Lyft for scale, but what they do offer is enhanced safety and peace of mind by making sure they answer all those nagging questions parents have.
HopSkipDrive, which was founded by three working mothers, claims to use a vetting process for drivers that includes fingerprinting, criminal history checks and a requirement for at least five years of caregiving experience. It even uses a team to monitor journeys virtually, allows parents to leave customized instructions for drivers (including to walk with a child to ensure they meet the right connection) and the use of code words.
Great though these services seem, there is a line of argument that says they’re just a carpool for a new age, but with professional drivers in place of someone’s mom. Is that true, or is there more to it? Is there a pressing business case?
The ride-hailing and sharing market has undergone significant growth in recent years, but some experts say this is based on a customer who is an urban adult, traveling alone or in a small group. What the big players in the market don’t really do well, is cater for a broader swathe of people.
So, is there an opportunity here to serve more types of customer or for the development of niche or specialist ride-hailing services?
Well, unless a number of advances can be taken to encourage use by the wider section of the population, growth in the ride-hailing and sharing market risks plateauing, say the experts.
The issue for the ride-hail and sharing industry isn’t just whether kids can travel alone; it’s how can it do more to cater for families, commuters, large groups, businesses, and other segments of the population for whom it’s currently not that useful or convenient.
Part of this challenge is that car sharing, ride hailing and other mobility businesses need to build more user-centric applications for a broader audience. Location intelligence technology can help these mobility providers expand their business to new audiences while maintaining high quality service that is cost efficient.
Parents thinking about using a specialist ride-hailing service for their kids certainly face a tricky consideration. But across the nascent ride-hail and sharing industry, how they serve parents better is just one of many similar concerns about how to serve distinct groups more effectively.