Parents in San Francisco are using an Uber-like app to hire private drivers for their kids

When Paige Simmons was looking for a way to get her teenage son and daughter to school, she went with Shuddle, a ride hailing service for kids that has been operating in the the San Francisco Bay Area since October of last year.

A few years ago, Simmons might have hired a part-time nanny to drive her kids to and from school and their extra curricular activities. Instead, her family is part of a small but growing number of parents choosing to let their kids be driven by complete strangers.

Today Shuddle is releasing a new app to let kids schedule rides for themselves. Parental approval is still required for each ride, but the iPhone and Android app aims to give young teens more flexibility over how quickly they get around.

Simmons, a 40-year-old attorney, heard about Shuddle when she saw an ABC segment on the service when it first launched eight months ago. She and her husband both work about an hour away from their home in Walnut Creek, and she didn’t feel that other ride hailing services were safe enough to trust with the well being of her 15 and 16-year-old.

It’s a fair concern to have given the worrisome number of Uber drivers that have faced alleged harassment, assault, and kidnapping charges while behind the wheel. There have even been two cases of death from Uber accidents.

Even with the safety concerns, a surprising number of parents are using the app to get their kids to and from soccer practice and the movies.

To make matters worse, Uber and Lyft don’t have the insurance that’s needed to cover passengers under the age of 18. It’s a more expensive kind of coverage that requires the insurance agency to regularly conduct inspections of the company’s safety procedures.

Shuddle covers kids from the age they don’t need to sit in a booster seat (typically around 8 years old) and up. The startup also has an extensive vetting process for new drivers that most adults don’t go through for corporate jobs.

“Trust and safety are the cornerstones of the whole service,” Shuddle CEO Nick Allen said in an interview with Business Insider. “It’s just the table stakes for this business.”

Allen also co-founded Sidecar, a competitor to Lyft and Uber. The idea for Shuddle came to him when he would get worried calls from Sidecar drivers who were transporting kids. He decided to make a service designed specifically for kids that would give parents the peace of mind they wanted.

All Shuddle drivers — Allen says there are now “hundreds” serving thousands of kid riders — go through multiple background checks, have to provide two references that show a history in care taking, and finish the process with an in-person interview. Unlike Uber and Lyft, the vast majority of drivers are women, and they typically have backgrounds in professions like nursing or babysitting.

Screen Shot 2015 06 22 at 7.11.06 PMShuddleWhat it’s like requesting a ride in ShuddleMe.

When a ride is scheduled, the parent and kid can see a picture and bio of the driver. Parents can monitor the ride as it happens via GPS, and Shuddle knows when a driver is speeding or braking too quickly behind the wheel. It can even detect if a driver is texting while driving by tapping into his or her’s smartphone sensors.

ShuttleMe, the new app released today in the App Store and Google Play, lets kids schedule their own rides up to an hour in advance. Each ride has to be approved by the parent, who gets a notification and authorizes the pickup by paying with the credit card on file.

The current Shuddle app is specifically meant for parents and requires rides to be set up at least 24 hours in advance, a system that’s less optimised for the summer months when kids are out of school and have less structured schedules.

Being part of Shuddle costs $US9 per month on top of each ride’s cost. (Fares vary but are similar to UberX prices). It’s certainly not for everyone, but for families like the Simmons, “it’s been like the third parent.”

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