So much for that long-held parenting tenet "Don't get in cars with strangers." On Tuesday morning, Shuddle announced a new update to its ride-hailing service designed for children of busy parents: an app that lets kids as young as 7 to summon a car themselves.
Shuddle, created by former SideCar co-founder and CFO Nick Allen as a sort of Uber for minors, now has a companion app that lets the kids book the rides. Called ShuddleMe, the app lets any smartphone-equipped kid who doesn't need a booster seat schedule their own rides up to an hour ahead of time.
"We've actually had parents say that they went out and bought their kids a phone so they can use this service," Allen told BuzzFeed News. "That's how big a pain point shuttling kids is."
The ShuddleMe app is intended to empower kids to arrange their own rides while keeping parents in the loop — particularly during the summer when kids are out of school and often have shifting schedules. Every time a kid books a ride through ShuddleMe, parents are prompted to approve it via a connected Shuddle app. "The app is up to speed with all the functionality of [Shuddle]," Allen told BuzzFeed News. "Parents will get notifications when their kids are picked up and dropped off, and they can track the ride."
Entrusting anyone, much less complete strangers, with your children can be daunting. But Shuddle drivers, the majority of whom are female, undergo what Allen describes as as "an extensive" background check.
"We do checks through a number of databases using the Social Security numbers, address history, [and we can see] if there are any aliases," he said. "This allows for very localized reporting. A lot of minor offenses don't get reported to national databases; this way we can see things to the county level. Sometimes that means having a county clerk pull arrest records. We also do two reference checks to see if drivers have experience in a caregiver-type setting."
In addition to conducting in-person training and meeting each driver, Shuddle provides a password to both the driver and passenger that they share to ensure the children are in the right car. The company also uses its app to track whether drivers are speeding, breaking hard, or picking up their phone to text while on the job. As of right now, Shuddle employees perform these tasks manually. But with an eye toward expansion, the company is looking to automate some of them.
"We're making the monitoring system smarter," he said. "We'll always have people monitoring the ride, but more and more the software will be looking for things out of the ordinary, making it more scalable. Like is the car following a route that we prescribed? Is it going to arrive when we expect it to?"
Shuddle is currently available only in the Bay Area, though Allen told BuzzFeed News it hopes to expand in the next few months. The company, which raised $9.6 million in March, and charges users a $9 monthly fee, has "hundreds of drivers" according to Allen and is gaining some traction in the suburbs, which account for about two-thirds of its rides.