Children's ride-share: I-Team probes background checks

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation

Jason Knowles Image
Friday, September 25, 2015
Background checks for children's ride-share services
New app-based, ride-sharing services for children are coming to Chicago - and the I-Team is probing into their security checks.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Strangers in their own cars could soon be driving your children to soccer practice.

New app-based, ride-sharing services for children are coming to Chicago - and the I-Team is probing into their security checks.

In Los Angeles, sixth grade student Olivia Press is getting a ride home with someone who she doesn't know. The driver brings along her son too, in her own vehicle.

"I have been desperate about how can I do a job I love and get my kids to all of their things," said Kirsten Hansen Press, Olivia's mother.

Press uses the ride-share app for children, HopSkipDrive, for both of her daughters.

"To be honest, their background checks are more than I did for babysitters," Press said.

The founders of HopSkipDrive say that they vett drivers similar to Uber and Lyft but they say they go further, digging deeper into a driver's history.

"We do DMV checks on a monthly basis, we do a social security trace and we look at every county you have lived in and we do that seven-year check. The service we are using in the State of California goes back to the 50s," said Joanna McFarland, HopSkipDrive.

McFarland is one of the three moms who created the company.

She says drivers all have at least five years of childcare experience and go through a screening process lasting between two weeks and a month.

It includes fingerprint checks, which are not done by traditional ride-share services.

McFarland also says third party researchers go further, by digging for records in hometown courthouses.

"We really think what we are doing is caregivers on wheels, this is not a taxi service," McFarland said.

All rides are monitored via GPS by HopSkipDrive employees and parents receive push alerts to their phone, updating their child's trip.

Drivers use orange vests, flags and secret code words to verify.

"There is a secret code as well so you know you are picking up the right person," said Dee Jones, a driver.

Both HopSkipDrive and Shuddle out of San Francisco are planning to launch in Chicago by next year.

The drivers must carry their own insurance and each company holds a $1 million liability policy per ride.

Shuddle says its drivers are 100 percent female and it too uses a strict background check process, including fingerprints run through a FBI data base.

But the safeguards aren't enough to convince these Schaumburg mothers.

"My kids are too valuable. It's not worth it. Oh, no. No way," said Lili Jimenez.

"I prefer to stay together because it is more safety for my sons," said Maria Elizabeth Garcia.

"You don't know how the person drives, you don't know what's happening," said Monika Skarzinskaite.

These services cost about 15 percent more than Lyft or Uber, and they do require advance notice for pick-up - Shuddle requiring one hour and HopSkipDrive asks parents for an eight-hour notice.

Both companies also say they have technology to make sure drivers aren't speeding, or texting and driving.