Busy Parents ‘Uber’ Kids Around for a Carpool Alternative

UberFamily App
In May, Uber launched UberFamily in New York, giving parents the possibility to request a car equipped with a child-seat. The service was also rolled out in Philadelphia and Washington D.C. in July. Source: Uber via Bloomberg

As the oldest of three kids, Baily Deeter was often the last to be picked up from school by his mother. Then Uber Technologies Inc. came along.

When Baily started ninth grade in August, his parents gave him an account for the mobile car-booking application, under his dad’s name and credit card. Now rather than wait for his mom, the 14-year-old taps on his iPhone to order an Uber car for the seven-mile ride home from school in Atherton, California.

“I’m very happy to have an Uber account,” said the teen. “It shows the trust that my parents have placed in me and it allows me to get from place to place in a flash.” His father, Byron Deeter, is a venture capitalist at Bessemer Venture Partners, who said he regrets not having invested in Uber.

Like the Deeters, parents in cities from Los Angeles to New York who can’t make the drive themselves are also starting to use car-booking and ride-sharing apps to ferry their kids around. Parents are particularly turning to the apps for teenagers’ transportation needs to sports events and parties, said Brian Solis, an analyst at Altimeter Group, a San Mateo, California-based firm that researches the impact of new technologies. The apps let parents monitor where their children are during rides, something taxis and other modes of transport still don’t offer.

“Having an Uber account is a growing trend, especially among high schoolers, reflective of the trust-based sharing economy,” said Solis, who also pays for an Uber account for his 17-year-old son.

Widening Use

While data on the trend are scarce -- Uber and Lyft Inc. don’t let minors open accounts so parents arrange kids’ rides, which makes tracking the demographics difficult -- interviews with more than a dozen families and drivers show Uber usage is increasingly widespread.

Baily said his friends use Uber too, adding that he only takes the service when his parents can’t pick him up. The Deeters have spent about $100 on Uber rides for Baily since August, said his father.

Uber is helping to foster usage by families, paving the way for growth with a new generation. In May, the company rolled out a service called UberFamily in New York City, which gives parents the option to request a car equipped with a child seat. The service was broadened to Philadelphia and Washington D.C. in July.

A representative for San Francisco-based Uber, which operates in more than 210 cities worldwide and is valued at $17 billion, declined to comment.

“For most consumer companies, reaching teenagers -- the customers of the future -- remains a challenge,” Solis said. Young riders “can only multiply Uber’s potential growth.”

Car Ownership

The use of Uber and other transportation apps by families also has implications for how young people choose to drive later. Already fewer youth are driving, with the percentage of U.S. high school seniors between 17 and 18 years old who have a drivers license declining to 73 percent in 2010 from 85 percent in 1996, according to data cited by a study from consumer group U.S. Pirg.

Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California at Berkeley, said young people are owning cars at a lesser rate than before, partly because of vehicles’ lack of affordability and the rise of ride-sharing apps. Millennials “prefer to stay connected and regard driving as a distraction,” she added.

“This trend and youth indifference to car ownership happen to be coincidental and very positive for Uber,” said Bill Gurley, a partner at venture capital firm Benchmark, which is an investor in Uber.

Safety Questions

Safety, of course, remains a hurdle for some parents. A year ago, Borge Hald and Amy Pressman, a couple in Palo Alto, California, decided to let their 17-year-old and 13-year-old sons use Uber when they go to music lessons in the evening. Yet they don’t feel it’s safe for their 11-year-old daughter.

“We used to spend the weekends driving the kids around,” said Hald, a technology entrepreneur who co-founded Medallia Inc., a software startup, with his wife. “We decided to use Uber to save some personal time.”

Byron Deeter, Baily’s dad, said he and his wife, Alli, spent three months discussing whether to give their son an Uber account.

“Alli doesn’t work and I travel a lot for work and I can’t help her with picking up the kids,” Deeter said. “She was anxious at first about safety, but now she’s fine.”

Baily is only allowed to use UberX, the cheapest of Uber’s services. The teen has to text his mom the name and phone number of the driver. His parents then monitor the ride on “Find My Friends” or on Life360, two GPS-based tracking apps.

‘Ubering’ Home

Other parents request rides for their children on their own smartphones so that they can keep an eye on the trip, said Michael Goldman, an Uber driver in New York. He carries passengers who are between 10 to 14 years old by themselves at least twice a day, he said.

For some parents, Uber has become a verb, said Mychael Love, an Uber driver in Los Angeles.

“I often hear passengers making plans to ‘Uber’ the kids somewhere,” he said. “At least 1 percent of my rides are about taking kids to school or teenagers to parties.”

For Claire Danese, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, letting her son Rocco, 13, use the app through her account “was a no brainer,” she said.

While Danese doesn’t want her 11-year-old daughter to take an Uber by herself, she lets Rocco use the app once or twice a week if his soccer practice in Manhattan ends late. Danese, a pilates instructor, said she requests the Uber ride on her phone when her son is ready to come home.

Taxi Rides

Rocco, who takes the subway to school, previously took taxis to return home after dusk, “but we feel safer with Uber because you can see who the driver is and track the ride,” Danese said. Rocco started using UberX about two months ago and spends $150 a month on the service, less than what the family paid for for taxi rides.

Rocco said he feels safe in an Uber car, especially since “the drivers are really nice, they help you to carry bags and give you drinks and candies.”

Both Rocco and Baily said they know Uber will be their go-to car-booking app in the future.

“I can envision Uber being my top choice, when I’ll need quick transportation to be on time, say, for a meeting,” said Baily.

Rocco said he’s looking forward to driving himself in a few years, “but I’m not going to feel so comfortable initially and I know I’ll prefer to use Uber for the first two years to avoid crashes.”

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