San Francisco

Making Inroads in ‘Uber for Kids' Niche

Uber and Lyft drivers are not supposed to take unaccompanied minors, per company policies

New ride-hailing companies are going where the traditional ones can’t, targeting kids and their parents who need help juggling work and parenting responsibilities. 

Eleven-year old Coco, of Los Gatos, California, uses Zum app four days a week to get to home from school, get a snack and get to gymnastics when her parents are tied up at work.

“It makes me feel independent and lets me be without my mom being on my tail all the time. It’s nice to get a break from that sometimes,” Coco, said.

Zum is one of a handful of start-ups making inroads in the ride-hailing industry. Uber and Lyft drivers are not supposed to take unaccompanied minors, per company policies.

Enter companies such as San Francisco-based Kango and Los Angeles-Based HopSkipDrive, which also provide drivers with childcare backgrounds to busy Bay Area parents.

“Three o’clock to five was a stressful time for parents. A huge productivity loss for the company too,” said Ritu Narayan, who founded Zum in Belmont after a stint at Ebay. “Both of my kids were transitioning to school and suddenly I had this challenge of being in two or three places at the same time.”

Her company had 10 drivers when it launched last year. Now, more than 300 “Zumers” serve 3,000 families in the Bay Area and Orange County.

“All [the drivers] come from childcare experience. They go from phone interviews to in-person interviews. They are fingerprinted, background checked. They are Trustline certified, which is the gold standard for working in California,” Narayan said.

The majority of drivers are women: stay-at-home moms, nannies, teachers and graduate students looking to supplement their incomes.

Plus, there are army veterans such as San Jose’s Rosanna Nguyen, who home schools her four kids.

“Being a stay-at-home mom, you often feel hidden inside your house. You kind of feel left out,” Nguyen said.

After only two months on the job, she says she feels empowered, bringing in anywhere from $24 to $32 per hour.

“It feels really good too, as a financial contributor to my family. My husband was like, ‘Your confidence level has gone way up,’” Nguyen said.

The price for parents? Rides start at $8 for carpools and $16 for solo rides, with add on costs for babysitting.

Coco’s dad says the extra cost is worth the peace of mind. He receives notifications during every step of his daughter’s journey.

“Life before Zum was really hectic, chaotic and unfortunately sometimes not the best for Coco. It was, ‘Dad, dad, dad, dad, dad! Where are you? Where are you?” Bobby Napiltonia said.

For him at least, there is no guilt for not being able to leave work to drive his daughter to after school activities. He still takes Coco to school every morning and picks her up on Fridays.

Plus, Coco prefers it this way. Going it alone makes her feel all grown up.

“I like being independent because I’m an independent person,” she said.

Other specialized ride-hailing companies are popping up too. Coming soon: Lift Hero for seniors and SafeHer for women. The latter launched this fall in Boston and is coming to California sometime next year.

Narayan is planning on expanding to at least a dozen more regions throughout the U.S. next year.

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