We have three kids, three different schools, two soccer teams, two full-time jobs, and not enough people to manage all the driving logistics,” says Jennifer G., a Chevy Chase mom who works full-time. So how does she get everyone where they need to go without playing personal chauffeur?
She hires one. In case you’re wondering, Jennifer is not part of the 1 percent, and the driver service doesn’t always send a black Town Car. Her little helper actually fits in the palm of her hand. It goes by the name Uber—an app that uses a phone’s GPS to send one of Uber’s driving partners to your doorstep. Or, in Jennifer’s case, a soccer field.
For busy parents, outsourcing help is nothing new—but while nannies and housekeepers are de rigueur, booking a chauffeured car for Junior can still be met with skepticism. As one DC Urban Mom commented: “Just the thought of my kid in the car alone with someone [I don’t know] gives me the willies.”
Still, in the last six months, car services that drive kids under 18 have grown in popularity.
Jennifer knows several families who use Uber, and her 17-year-old son says that most of his classmates have used the drivers to get to extracurricular activities. While teens under 18 can’t set up a personal Uber account, parents are booking the service for after-school practices and late-movie pickups.
The first time Jennifer used Uber to retrieve her 17-year-old from school, she had apprehensions.
“Even though we had tried Uber ourselves, I was pretty conflicted,” she says. “You’re leaving your child with an adult you don’t know—of course there is a safety concern.” She says her worries were eased over time, mainly because she became more comfortable with the service. “It feels safer than a cab,” she says. Before long, her 14-year-old son was “Uber-ing” from a school dance.
Best for Elementary-School Kids
Price: From $25 within 10-mile radius of Sandy Spring
Bonus: Car seats available upon request
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Best for Middle-School Kids
Price: $4, plus 50 cents per quarter-mile
Bonus: Option to request a specific driver
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Best for High-School Kids
Price: Varies by distance and type of vehicle service
Bonus: Split fare can be calculated, based on vehicle capacity and number of riders
Teens are not the only ones riding solo. There’s also My Kids Ride, founded by Charisse Callender-Scott, which is geared toward children as young as three—car seats are available upon request. “As a mom, I understand potential drawbacks for allowing your child to ride with someone else,” she says. “I treat your child just like I would my own.”
Aba Kwawu, who lives in Silver Spring, first used My Kids Ride two years ago to take her kids, ages six and four, to school when both she and her husband had to travel out of the country for work.
“If you had asked me two years ago whether I would use a car service for my kids, I would have said no,” she says. “I am very hands on, but I had my back against a wall and [using the service] was an eye opener.” It helps that the drivers are mostly moms, and will contact parents when picking up and dropping off.
While Uber and My Kids Ride are fairly new to the market, Barwood Taxi Service in Montgomery County has been shuttling kids for 50 years. Customers can choose from a fleet of minivans, SUVs, sedans, and hybrids. Barwood also allows parents to request a specific driver for recurring trips—all go through annual medical and background checks.
So is having a car service in the school parking lot a recipe for entitled kids?
Not according to Hilary Levey Friedman, sociologist and author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture. “These options actually democratize the car-service experience,” she says. When you live in a world where kids’ schedules are often busier than their parents’, Friedman says, hiring a driver can be a cost-effective solution.
Of course, all kids are different. Younger kids in particular like routines, and some might resist being sent off in a car with an adult they don’t know. But allowing kids to ride alone encourages independence and an opportunity to interact with other adults in a safe environment, says Friedman.
“American families are really busy,” she says. “For some, calling a car service is part of a survival strategy.”