13 Investigates


Rideshare for kids: Safe solution or risky choice?

HopSkipDrive debuts in Las Vegas
Posted at 6:47 PM, Jan 05, 2020

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Parents know the drill. Soccer practice, karate class, piano lessons... Repeat.

Dealing with the chaos of after-school activities translates to countless hours behind the wheel.

But now, there's now an app that could solve the problem.

It's called HopSkipDrive and it markets itself as like having a nanny and Uber or Lyft in one.

But how do you know if it's safe?

Mom Adrienne Symmons said, "I have three kids, they're all in soccer, we're working full-time so schedule's crazy. My husband and I are always on the go. And sometimes one has to be at this location, one has to be at this location."

HopSkipDrive -- a rideshare service for kids -- says it's got your back, with your kids in their back seats. They take children as young as six, with booster seats provided.

The company operates in seven states and was founded five years ago by three California moms.

"We started with 'what do we as parents want to see to feel comfortable putting our own children in a HopSkipDrive ride?' said CEO and Co-Founder Joanna McFarland.

"I think it's a wonderful service conceptually, but I think there are a lot of things we need to look into. Let's just say I'm not going to be one of the test cases," said Las Vegas Attorney and father Matthew Hoffmann.

"Who's regulating these companies? It's a gray area," Hoffmann said.

"Under Nevada law, if you take care of five or more children within a 24-hour period, you're a daycare facility," he added. "So does this fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health and Human Services? And do they have to comply with their background checks for employees? I would hope they do!"

According to Clark County, HopSkipDrive is not regulated under Nevada childcare laws -- even though their drivers, called CareDrivers, are quite literally caring for children as they go from point A to point B.

Watch Part 1 below:

Martha Framsted, public information officer for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, said, "The oversight for this type of transportation pertains to the Nevada Transportation Authority. With that being said, we urge parents/caregivers to thoroughly research their child’s caregivers, making sure the appropriate background checks have been done and they have the experience necessary to ensure the safety of their children."

"We are regulated as a rideshare company, as a transportation network company," said McFarland. "However, because we are carrying kids, we go above and beyond those regulatory requirements and tend to mirror some of the childcare requirements."

She says more than 95% of their drivers are female and they must have at least five years of caregiving experience.

"These are people who are used to working with kids. They are moms, they're teachers, they're nannies."

Every driver applicant undergoes a third-party background check and a fingerprint-based criminal history check against state and FBI databases.

Once a driver is hired, the company continuously receives updates to background and driving records.

McFarland says HopSkipDrive also meets all drivers in person. "So we do far more than Uber and Lyft. We also do far more than most families do to vet a nanny or a babysitter."

They require bright orange uniform shirts, have certified mechanics do car inspections and have a special password system, a code word set up by parents to make sure the right driver is matched to the right child at pickup.

Plus, parents get alerts so they can track their child's ride in real time via GPS.

"But we also have a SafeRide support team that is like air traffic control that is monitoring all rides in real time as well and can be there to help a parent or a CareDriver as needed," said McFarland. "And so we do far more than anyone else in the industry to ensure safety."

Safety has been a big concern with traditional rideshare companies.

Matthew Hoffmann hopes HopSkipDrive will eliminate what he calls black market Uber and Lyft, "Which is underage kids using Uber and Lyft, which they are not supposed to do."

Uber and Lyft both have policies against drivers picking up unaccompanied children.

"They publicly state that the drivers are supposed to not give them rides and report it so that the accounts can be suspended or whatever. We all know--and your investigative reporting showed--that it doesn't stop it," said Hoffmann.

A 13 investigation in 2018 found multiple children in multiple states had been sexually assaulted by rideshare drivers.

A Denver-area Uber driver was arrested in November of 2018 after he allegedly kidnapped and kissed a 15-year-old girl who was trying to get home from work.

A driver in southern California was charged with raping a minor teen girl in the backseat of his Uber car after her parents booked the ride to bring her home.

And police say a Florida Lyft driver confessed to sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy at the boy's home after picking him up from his high school.

There have been no reported cases involving HopSkipDrive in the five years the company's been operating.

But we discovered there are some safety gaps in this service that caters to kids.

Drivers are not required to have CPR training, though McFarland says because CareDrivers have caregiving experience, many of them already have it.

Also, cars are not equipped with cameras.

"It is not something that we have built into our app at this time," said McFarland. "It's something that we continue to evaluate. There are a lot of issues, specifically when it comes to kids and privacy."

"As a parent, I would say privacy concerns be damned," said Hoffmann. "I don't know why you wouldn't have a camera system in there."

Clark County feels confident enough in the service to devote taxpayer dollars to it.

Commissioners recently approved a $250,000 annual contract with HopSkipDrive to transport foster kids to school and activities as an option for when there are gaps in service from the Clark County School District.

"In the transportation world it's about being unique and being able to be creative with it," said Assistant County Manager Kevin Schiller at the Dec. 17 County Commission meeting.

The county's cost will be higher than the public's.

Parents booking rides for their kids in Las Vegas will pay a $17 flat fee per ride, plus $1.50 per mile.

The county will pay $20 per ride, plus $2.50 per mile.

When asked whether there have there been discussions about developing a partnership with CCSD, McFarland responded, "Nothing that I can comment on at this time."

The app is live in Las Vegas as of 6:00 a.m. Monday, Jan. 6 but you have to book at least eight hours in advance.

The company has hired about 100 local drivers so far and will continue to add more as demand grows.

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