A few months ago, ride-sharing icons Uber and Lyft grabbed headlines and goodwill by saying that they do not allow those under age 18 to use their services. Like others who heard the news, I applauded it: “That’s great—two for-profit firms forgoing income in order to protect young people.”
At the same time, the news made me wonder if there are other ride-sharing companies that don’t hold the same convictions and, instead, are willing to put kids into cars with whomever might be driving them. That’s when I came across a company that doesn’t just transport minors occasionally, it specializes in chauffeuring them.
In 2014, three southern California moms who were struggling “to get their busy kids to and from school and all their activities,” founded HopSkipDrive, a transportation service specifically designed for those age six and up. Just five years later, the firm has a staff of 50+ people, a presence in large metropolitan markets like Los Angeles and Washington D.C., and contracts with over 150 school districts.
How did a small, unconventional startup not only grow so quickly but even more importantly, persuade so many parents and others to trust the company with their most “precious cargo”? HopSkipDrive has achieved this rapid success through a combination of clear mission-focus and strict attention to detail.
Yes, busy parents who need to get their children to afterschool practices, lessons, etc., want to be sure that their kids arrive on-time, but their main concern, as mentioned above, is safety. If someone else is driving, who is the person who will be alone with their child in a car? Of course, the individual should be a skilled driver, but more importantly, can he/she be trusted?
Unfortunately, even with ridesharing companies that vet their drivers, you can’t always be sure ‘who you’re getting.’ Many of us have heard of rare but horrific incidents in which unstable drivers have harassed, raped, and even killed their passengers.
Nothing bad has happened to me while ridesharing, but my own recent experience caused me to question driver-screening. Our family had been staying at a resort for a few days and needed to get to a certain rental car center in order to continue our vacation. Using the Uber app, I requested a ride and watched on my phone for several minutes as the driver made his way toward the resort. Then, when he was only a minute away, he dropped the ride!
I can’t be sure what happened, but here’s my guess: A minute from where I was waiting, the resort had a gate where those entering the grounds via private vehicle needed to stop and show identification, i.e., a driver’s license. It may not be the reason he bailed at the last moment, but it’s sobering to think that the person who was going to give me a ride either didn’t have a valid driver’s license or wasn’t responsible enough to bring it with him.
It’s one thing to imagine a questionable driver chauffeuring an adult, it’s another thing to think of a young child confined in that vehicle. How could any company eliminate the risk inherent in such a situation?
When I first heard of HopSkipDrive, I was skeptical, not about demand for the service, but about the firm’s ability to ensure children’s safety in such an offering. As a working dad who helped drive his busy kids for years to/from school and practices and who commiserated with parents in similar predicaments, I knew there was a need. I wasn’t sure, though, how a company might manage the business model in a way that would give parents the confidence to say, “I’ll let my daughter or son ride with you.”
In light of such significant reservations, the main way HopSkipDrive maintains the trust of thousands of parents and schools each day is by painstakingly picking its drivers. In fact, the company uses an exhaustive 15-point certification process that requires the following of each applicant:
- Worked with children and has at least 5 years of caregiving experience
- No criminal record
- No sex offender record
- Valid driver’s license
- Good driving record
- Age 23 or older
- Owns or leases a vehicle not more than 10 years old seating 4-7 passengers
- Passes a 19-point vehicle inspection by a certified mechanic
- In-person meeting
- Completes in-person driver orientation
- Has personal auto insurance coverage
- Adopts the HopSkipRules
- Adopts our zero tolerance policy for smoking, drugs, and alcohol while driving
- Adopts the zero tolerance policy for illegal mobile device usage while a rider is in the car
Because of the meticulous selection process and the exceptionally kind and positive rapport those hired are expected to have with their passengers, HopSkipDrive doesn’t just call its personnel “drivers” but “CareDrivers.”
Special care and concern for safety begins as soon as CareDrivers arrive for a pickup. They wear bright orange HopSkipDrive t-shirts and verify their identity by confirming their passenger’s code word and birthday. Customers also can review CareDrivers’ profiles before pickup in order to know “who they are, what they look like, and the kind of car they drive.”
Throughout the ride, the company continues to leverage technology in order to ensure security. Dedicated HopSkipDrive staff members monitor each ride remotely through its duration, and parents can do the same. They also can receive alerts when their child has been picked up and dropped off.
As good as all of these systems are for onboarding employees and overseeing operations, they probably wouldn’t be effective if the company didn’t do something else very well: Embrace a compelling mission.
HopSkipDrive doesn’t just see itself as a provider of transportation service, i.e., getting kids from point A to point B, or even as an alleviator of parental stress, which it certainly does. Instead, this front-and-center statement on the company’s homepage communicates its mission: “Success starts by showing up. We help get them there.”
HopSkipDrive takes kids to school, piano lessons, basketball practice, and countless other developmental activities that are vital for children’s intellectual, social, and emotional growth. Those formative in-person experiences help them thrive now and contribute to their success in life for years to come. However, children can’t enjoy those activities unless someone ‘gets them there.’
In an interview with Yahoo Finance, HopSkipDrive’s CEO Joanna McFarland affirms that mission, saying “Oftentimes mobility is a huge barrier simply to access to education, and that’s something we’re helping to solve.”
It’s also confirming that employees appear to embrace the same purpose, such as one CareDriver who says “I feel really empowered being part of the greater good, getting kids safely where they need to go.”
As you might expect from the exacting service standards described above, “the greater good” does come at a higher cost. McFarland acknowledges that HopSkipDrive is a “premium service” that has “much different economics” than those of Uber and Lyft. Rides reportedly start at about $20.
However, the rates are comparable to what one would pay a caregiver. McFarland suggests the same in saying, “We think about [HopSkipDrive] much more as a substitute to a babysitter that drives than a comparison to an Uber and Lyft.”
The bottom-line is whether a substantial number of consumers (families and schools) find value in HopSkipDrive’s services. Apparently they do, as evidenced by the facts that the company is in seven markets and growing rapidly, has served over 6,000 schools, and has transported more than 650,000 children.
The most important validation, however, comes directly from those children—the actual riders—such as one young passenger who says, “They know my passcode, they talk to me, they make me feel very welcome. I’m never like, nervous to get in. In fact, I usually look forward to it because it’s a lot of fun.” Her experience is the best evidence that HopSkipDrive’s ridesharing for kids is “Mindful Marketing.”