Not Just Uber for Kids: An Analysis of HopSkipDrive
No, HopSkipDrive isn’t a new schoolyard jump rope game. (It’s a really good name for one, though—it could be the Double Dutch of the new millennium. Someone should definitely get on that). HopSkipDrive, a startup founded in 2014 by three successful working mothers, is both a ride-sharing and child-care service. The company aims to solve the working parent’s dilemma of how to transport kids to and from school, daycare, sports games, and ballet recitals.
Through HopSkipDrive, parents arrange pre-scheduled trips for children (between seven and seventeen years old) through an interface similar to other ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft. The LA-based company just received $3.9 million in seed funding and currently has more than 2,000 users signed up for it. While HopSkipDrive is clearly a brilliant idea, is it the right solution for the problem of the harried parent and the overscheduled kid?
HOW HOPSKIPDRIVE WORKS
Parents must schedule rides at least 8 hours in advance.* Once the ride is set, the parent receives a photo and short bio of their “CareDriver” and is prompted to set a code word for the scheduled ride. Then the parent shares the photo and code word with their child so they too can identify their CareDriver. During the ride, both the parent and a HopSkipDrive employee monitor the driver’s route, speed, and arrival time. Once the trip is complete, the parent is notified.
One “ride” is a trip less than thirty minutes or five miles and costs a steep $20. If you need a longer ride, it costs $1 per extra mile and fifty cents per extra minute. Parents can purchase slightly cheaper ride packages, like the 50 ride package for $600, or $12 per ride. It’s also important to note that these prices are for one passenger; each additional child costs $5.
Obviously, safety concerns loom over HopSkipDrive’s potential success. The three founders are hyper-aware of the necessity for stringent safety precautions; after all, they themselves are mothers. Between the three of them they have eight children, and they have their own kids use HopSkipDrive.
In addition to making the ride trackable through the HopSkipDrive app, the drivers undergo a 15-point driver certification process. Some of these requirements include: a minimum of five years of childcare experience (being a mother counts for this experience), registering one’s record and fingerprints through California’s TrustLine registry, no criminal or sex offender record, a zero-tolerance policy for texting or making phone calls during drives, and an intensive interview and orientation process. Read the complete 15-point list here.
There are many criticisms to be made about HopSkipDrive. Here’s a short list of things I think are the company’s biggest weaknesses:
- COST: It’s clearly meant for a certain class of customers. Not only does it cater to parents who can afford shelling out $20 for one trip to soccer practice, it also intrinsically relies on a client base that has constant access to a smartphone.
- SCHEDULING 8 HOURS IN ADVANCE: What about last-minute carpool emergencies? This seems to be a clear instance where HopSkipDrive would be the perfect solution. Perhaps this will improve in the future if the company expands its staff.
- SAFETY: No matter how many points HopSkipDrive has in its driver certification process, something can always go awry. If one thing goes wrong in a single ride, all of the company’s earned trust—vital for their success—vanishes.
Despite its weaknesses, HopSkipDrive serves as a necessary solution for an omnipresent frustration in many parents’ lives. What do you do if you can’t pay a nanny or babysitter to chauffeur your children around? What if you don’t have a spouse, relative, or family friend with both the time and ability to pick up your kids from school? What if there is no provided school bus intended to transport your child from badminton practice to oboe rehearsal?
Without apps like HopSkipDrive, there is no clear answer. (Also, kids these days are way too good at too many things. No child needs to be both a tennis and violin virtuoso, but that’s a separate issue for another day.)
- SCHEDULING SOLUTION: The schedules of school and extracurricular activities don’t match up with the conventional 9-to-5 workday. Inherent in these schedules is the assumption that one adult (a stay-at-home mom, perhaps) is able to drop off and pick up the kids. If you or your partner can’t perform these tasks, a carpool situation is assumed—but this too anticipates that you know some stay-at-home parent. While this structural mismatch is a weighty, difficult problem to fix, HopSkipDrive serves as a supplementary solution. It offers a unique remedy to the fact that you get home from work at 6:30 but your daughter has to be picked up from lacrosse practice at 4:45.
- GOOD FOR THE DRIVERS: Most of the CareDrivers are women and they can bring their own children in the car while they drive. Not only does this allow for mothers to pick up part-time work while caring for their own kids, but it also serves as a more palatable alternative to driving for Uber. While the majority of CareDrivers are women, only 14% of Uber drivers are female. According to Greg Bettinelli, an investor in HopSkipDrive, since more Uber rides take place at night, HopSkipDrive’s heavier daytime work schedule is appealing to parents who want to be with their families for dinner. Moreover, Bettinelli asserts that many female CareDrivers told him that they wouldn’t feel safe driving around drunk strangers in Ubers.
IS HOPSKIPDRIVE A GOOD SOLUTION?
Ride-sharing apps like Uber have transformed transportation as we know it; HopSkipDrive could also be a revolutionary game changer. However, HopSkipDrive is not just “the Uber for kids.” It’s more than a new ride-sharing service—the company is a novel solution for an old problem. HopSkipDrive acknowledges the concerns of working parents and the incompatibility of schedules between adults and children.
The CareDriver position is a flexible, liberating job opportunity for stay-at-home parents. It’s too early to tell if HopSkipDrive will succeed, but it illuminates a broken system that needs to be patched up somehow—and maybe this app is the alternative that stressed parents have been waiting for.
Of course, HopSkipDrive isn’t perfect. In addition to the obvious anxieties over safety, the service’s high prices limit those it helps to a certain class of people who can buy a 50-ride package that costs $600. This package could only last one month if you need help dropping off and picking up kids from school every day.
HopSkipDrive is a solution, but it’s not the solution for all working parents, especially since most people can’t afford a kiddie chauffeur service.
On a lighter note, HopSkipDrive is also not the ideal solution for the popularity-conscious middle schooler. If lunchboxes are uncool in junior high, it’s supremely uncool to be picked up from school by a bright-orange-shirt-wearing adult driving a car adorned with similarly fluorescent flags. Trust me. The code word also won’t help with the hip factor—sure, it’s safe, but safety is oh-so-juvenile. For kids older than age 12, HopSkipDrive is definitely not cooler than being picked up by a mom in a minivan. At least there aren’t any flags on that car (I hope).
*Note: When this post was written, the HopSkipDrive booking window was 24 hours. As of August 3, 2015, parents can schedule rides up to 8 hours in advance.
Do you think HopSkipDrive is a good idea? If you’re a parent, would you use the service? Comment in the section below, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at us @perfect_search!
Kayla Hammersmith is a huge fan of Nancy Drew computer games and swears that she can do a very specific impression of Pal, the dog from Arthur. You might often find her snacking on goat cheese as she dreams of one day becoming a cellist savant.