App lets kids book rides themselves

A screen shot from ShuddleMe, a new app that lets 8- to 16-year-old kids book a ride someplace themselves in advance.



SAN FRANCISCO — Sacha Simmons used to dread taking a taxi to her high school or someplace else to hang out with her friends when her parents weren’t around to give her a ride. Sometimes, the cab drivers wouldn’t show up or, when they did, they were rude or haggled about the fare.

Those frustrations disappeared a few months ago when her parents introduced her to Shuddle, a ride-hailing service that caters to youngsters who need a lift when mom and dad are too busy.

“I had some pretty bad experiences with cabs,” Sacha, 16, says. “Shuddle is less of a hassle and I feel safe with their system. The driver knows who I am and it’s more secure.”

Shuddle is among a crop of California services providing rides to 8- to 16-year-olds who need to get to school, a sporting event or social activity. It has now introduced ShuddleMe, an app that lets the kids book the ride themselves within an hour of when it’s needed.

Before this, parents had to arrange for the car at least a day in advance. ShuddleMe still requires parental approval.

Besides Shuddle, kid-friendly ride-hailing options include HopSkipDrive and Boost, an experimental service backed by car maker Mercedes-Benz.

These alternatives are seizing an opportunity created by better known ride-hailing services such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, which all have policies against giving rides to unaccompanied minors.

Shuddle charges a $9 monthly membership fee, and its fares are about 15 percent higher than Uber’s for comparable trips. The member­ship fee and surcharge help pay for background checks of Shuddle’s drivers.

The company is trying to avoid the complaints that have bedeviled Uber about inadequately screened drivers, a few of whom have faced allegations of sexual assault.

Unlike Uber, Shuddle routinely interviews prospective drivers face to face. Its background checks scan courts and other local law enforcement agencies for serious crimes and even minor infractions. Drivers also must either be parents or have previous experience working with kids as nannies, baby sitters, coaches or nurses.

Parents can track the progress of their kids’ rides, and Shuddle says its own staff monitors what is happening in the cars on each trip.
“We go above and beyond because we want everyone to feel comfortable and confident about what we are doing,” says CEO Nick Allen. “We are safer than the neighborhood car pool.”

Paige Simmons, Sacha’s mother, is happy with Shuddle so far. The service sends her photos of both the driver and the car that will be transporting either Sacha or her son Jay, 15. Shuddle texts her when her children reach their destination.

“They give me all the information I need to feel comfortable,” says Simmons, who has been spending at least $200 per month booking rides for her kids on Shuddle.

Sacha and Jay often scramble for rides because their mom, an attorney, and father, a shopping mall manager, both work at least 40 minutes away from their Mountain View, Calif., home.

Jay thinks the ability to hail a ride with an hour’s notice on the ShuddleMe app is going to improve his social life.

“I used to be unable to hang out with my friends on short notice because I couldn’t get a ride,” Jay says. “This is going to be a lot easier and faster than hassling my parents.”