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Parents hire after-school driving help by app

While the parental headache of juggling kids between soccer practices, orthodontist appointments and piano lessons has been outsourced by many families to babysitters and nannies, there's now an app for kid transport.

Or rather, multiple apps: some parents use Uber, or a service called Zum. Another kid-shuttling service called HopSkipRide is in the Los Angeles area. Shuddle, which billed itself as "Uber for kids," closed permanently in mid-April, and Boost, listed below, we recently learned closed permanently on June 30, 2016.

We spoke with parents who use each of these services.

Uber

News articles across the U.S. report families use Uber to shuttle their kids. Uber's pricing is based on a formula of a base rate plus time plus distance, and at high demand times uses "surge pricing" as a rate multiplier. However, according to Uber's terms of use conditions, drivers are not supposed to transport unaccompanied minors, and minors are not permitted to create Uber accounts.

For Venetia Riso, a Menlo Park resident and parent of three kids, enlisting Uber has been helpful for transporting her 16-year-old son. As a safety measure, she always asks him to send her the in-app link showing the driver's name and license plate number, and she tracks the ride in real time on her smartphone.

Those features give her more ease as a parent than she'd feel if she had just called a cab, she said. For her 11- and 13-year-old girls, she said she's not ready to use Uber yet, and is exploring options for when they need to be in different places at the same time.

Paying for an Uber in her case, she said, can be cost-effective compared to the lost income of leaving work early to drive children to their various activities.

Boost

Update: Boost ceased operations on June 30.

Lesley Robertson, a parent who lives in Stanford, said that she uses Boost, which transports kids ages 5 to 18. Boost was developed by Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America. The Boost service uses Mercedes-Benz sprinter vans to transport kids, with two adults present: one to drive and one to babysit.

Rides must be scheduled 48 hours in advance. A one-way ride costs $22, and rides can be purchased in bundles for up to 20 percent off. The shuttle service operates in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Los Altos, Mountain View and Atherton, its website says.

Ms. Robertson said she is not regular customer, but does use Boost occasionally to transport her 9-year-old daughter to after-school care. "It's been a game changer for our family, and makes it possible for me to be a more effective professional," she said.

Zum

Zum (pronounced "zoom") is a San Mateo-based service, officially launched in January, that combines transport for kids with an optional childcare component. It currently serves families in six Bay Area counties.

Transportation services are priced by distance, with a $16 minimum, and babysitting services are priced at $6 per 15 minutes. Carpools between two or three families can also be set up, and the app will split the costs automatically, said Zum CEO Ritu Narayan.

To allay distrust parents might have about sending their kid in a car with strangers, people who drive and babysit for Zum are vetted for clear driving records and previous childcare experience, said Erica Zeidenberg, a spokesperson for Zum. So far, she said, all of the company's independent contractors are female.

With the service, each family gets a maximum of five driver-babysitters who transport children, so children don't have to adjust to new faces each time they use the service. Drivers are instructed to never leave a child unless there has been a "handoff" to another pre-approved adult.

Allison Kugler, a faculty lecturer at Stanford Business School and a Menlo Park resident, said she has known the CEO of Zum, Ritu Narayan, for several years and is on the advisory board of the company.

The Zum program offers flexibility, Ms. Kugler said. For instance, drivers can stay with kids during their after-school activities, and can incorporate stops along the way to pick up other kids or grab snacks if the kids get hungry.

According to Ms. Narayan, 90 percent of users so far use Zum every week and 40 percent use it every day. "We're working really hard to build trust (by) getting kids where they need to be when they need to be there," she said.

Editor's Note: A previous version of the story did not mention that Boost has ceased operations.

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