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New ride-hailing company focuses on transporting children

Updated December 16, 2019 - 8:53 am

A ride-hailing service that will cater to the valley’s youth will make its debut in Las Vegas next month.

HopSkipDrive aims to cater to working parents who aren’t able to take their children to extracurricular activities and at-risk youth who are not able to get to school due to logistical issues.

The service goes live in Las Vegas on Jan. 6.

HopSkipDrive CEO and co-founder Joanna McFarland, who started the company in 2015 in Los Angeles, helped develop the idea after experiencing her own issues as a working mother.

“Me and two other women are all working moms, with eight kids between us and they go to six different schools and they do 20 different after-school activities and we were dying,” McFarland said. “I was feeling guilty I couldn’t get my son to karate at 3 o’clock, because I was working.”

After hearing from other moms with similar transportation issues, and recognizing that larger ride-hailing companies like Lyft and Uber don’t allow those under 18 to ride alone, the idea was born.

Built around safety, the group’s members worked out a plan where they would feel safe putting their own kids in a ride with a driver without them.

“We really built it from the ground up with that in mind,” McFarland said.

The service operates like any ride-hailing service, as parents, caregivers and schools can order rides for their children via a smartphone app. Rides start with a $17 base fee and increase based on time and distance. Families that carpool can share the costs to help offset the price.

There is no surge pricing with the service and it doesn’t operate 24 hours a day, like Uber and Lyft. Instead it will operate during hours when children need rides most, starting in the early morning for school rides and ending around 8 p.m. for extracurricular activities. Rides can be booked in advance, as long as it’s eight hours before, or by 7 p.m. the day before.

“Care drivers” undergo a thorough 15-point certification process, are required to have at least five years of caregiving experience and go through a full background check, including fingerprinting, car inspection and driver record checks. Each driver is met in person ahead of being hired.

“We do far more than most families do when they’re hiring a babysitter,” McFarland said. “They (the drivers) tend to be moms, teachers, nannies, empty nesters, people who are used to working with kids and miss that day-to-day experience.”

Drivers in the field will be tracked by technology and HopSkipDrive staff, who will reach out if the ride goes off course or something seems amiss. A child will also have a code word and be asked a predetermined question to ensure the right passenger is being picked up by the correct driver.

Though the idea started with families in mind, the plan quickly grew to include schools and at-risk students.

“While the yellow school bus is fantastic, it’s not always the right solution for today’s growing school transportation needs,” McFarland said. “We work with a lot of school districts and counties who tend to have individual transportation needs. They have an individualized education plan and their school doesn’t provide services for that, so the district has to transfer them to another school in the district.”

HopSkipDrive also can fill a void in areas where rerouting an existing bus route doesn’t make sense, McFarland said.

Homeless and foster youth are targets of the service, as keeping them in the same school increases their chances of being successful students, McFarland said.

“Being able to stay at their school’s origin is really important for school stability, as these kids move around quite a bit,” she said. “The average foster youth might move around three or four times in their first year in foster care. Every time you change schools you’re losing four to six months of learning.”

Clark County commissioners will consider awarding a one-year contract with HopSkipDrive for $250,000 at Tuesday’s board meeting. The contract could potentially be worth up to $1.25 million if all renewal options are exercised, available in four one-year contracts, according to county documents.

HopSkipDrive already operates in 12 cities in nine states nationwide, including Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle.

McFarland said the company has found there is a need for this type of ride-hailing component.

“While each market has their own nuances, the underlying need is there,” she said.

HopSkipDrive is hiring care drivers for the Las Vegas Valley ahead of the January launch. The company usually opens up a new market with 100 drivers in place.

“Care drivers are about 90 percent female and and what they really like about this is that they don’t have to drive late at night and they don’t have to drive drunk people,” McFarland said. “Because our rides are pre-scheduled, they are able to plan their drive around their day.”

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