Several companies that launched to meet the demand by catering to unaccompanied minors are gaining traction in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Using these app-based transportation services, families can book rides in advance to take students to and from school, work, after-school activities, extracurriculars or anywhere else they need to be.
Hired drivers go through extensive background checks, and various companies require a specific amount or kind of experience before hiring. Many apps have ride-tracking capabilities for parents to monitor rides as well as a support team to contact in case of emergencies.
Parents using the app receive driver identification details before their children get in the car, and notification alerts are sent through the app to let parents know their children have arrived at their destinations safely.
Company executives said the demand for this service stems from traffic congestion, hectic schedules and large populations.
McKinney resident John Smith said he has used one app—Bubbl—for two years for his children who go to school in Dallas. It has helped him manage his time at home and at work in Sherman. Smith is divorced and said he has his children about 50% of the time.
"I could not physically run my law practice and travel down to Dallas three days out of the week to pick them up from school in the evenings,” Smith said.
In October, Los Angeles-based company HopSkipDrive launched in Dallas and began servicing surrounding suburbs, including Grapevine, Colleyville and Southlake. This service followed on the heels of New York-based VanGo, which launched in the DFW region over the summer.
“Dallas—overall, the metroplex—is a growing area,” HopSkipDrive CEO Joanna McFarland said. “Hundreds of thousands of people are moving here every year. There are over a million kids that are school age in this area, and traffic and congestion are certainly [problems]. We thought that this is something that we could really help solve.”
A representative from another company, Zum, confirmed via email that it, too, expects to begin serving the DFW area at a later, unspecified date. Meanwhile, Dallas residents may be more familiar with Bubbl, which has been operating in the city limits since 2016.
Bubbl also works with area nonprofits whose clients may face transportation barriers, said Pam Adams, co-founder of and chief growth officer for Bubbl.
While Bubbl serves the North Dallas area, it can accommodate rides to and from Tarrant County and surrounding cities, Adams said in an email. Rides that remain within Tarrant County will carry additional fees if they can be accommodated.
In October, Tarrant County Commissioners Court also approved a contract with Bubbl to serve clients of county organizations, such as its public health department, the administrator’s office, the criminal district attorney’s office and other departments.
“As far as being here locally, we were really the first,” Adams said. “They are now starting to come from all over. Some people have different specialties. Some are offering buses and shuttle. Some are hiring mothers. Some are looking at private drivers versus carpooling, so there are definitely different models that are being experimented with.”
Serving the community
There is a “huge need” for this type of service, McFarland said. She and two other women started HopSkipDrive because they were struggling to balance work and family life. “We started HopSkipDrive really to solve our own problem as parents,” she said.
In addition to serving families directly, McFarland’s company also partners with local school districts, including Keller ISD. The school district contracts with HopSkipDrive for transportation services for a limited number of qualifying students.
The KISD Federal Programs Department began working with the service provider in August. HopSkipDrive helps about seven students who live outside the school district due to special circumstances, said Leigh Cook, the district’s director of federal programs and academic compliance.
“When we’re dealing with one or two students who live in Arlington or North Richland Hills or [somewhere else], this is more cost-effective and more timely than sending a big, yellow bus,” Cook said.
Grapevine-Colleyville ISD is currently exploring the possibility of a similar partnership, GCISD Executive Communications Director Kristin Snively said in an email.
Carroll ISD, however, is not currently looking at this transportation option, Julie Thannum, CISD assistant superintendent for board and community relations, said in an email.
HopSkipDrive and Bubbl also serve adults, such as seniors who cannot drive themselves or those with special needs. VanGo, on the other hand, caters exclusively to older children and teenagers.
“We really geared ourselves as a company for working parents and specifically for working moms,” VanGo founder Marta Jamrozik said. “What we’re really trying to do is create a support system starting with transportation.”
Safety was at the forefront of the conversation during the launches of all these companies, their executives confirmed.
HopSkipDrive and VanGo require drivers to have a certain number of years of caregiving experience—this could include parents, nurses, teachers and nannies—and more than 85% of VanGo drivers are mothers, Jamrozik said.
Meanwhile, Bubbl’s drivers comprise many former or off-duty police officers, first responders, medics and other civil servants.
In addition to driver background checks, companies have vehicles inspected before being deployed.
Although minors can benefit from transportation services, the terms and conditions for these apps have a minimum 18-years age requirement to create accounts and order rides. Users enter their credit card information and pay after they reach their destinations.
“Uber sort of created this world of ride-on-demand, and I think we’ve just sort of taken that idea and taken it to a different level to provide [safe services] for busy families that just need to get the kids where they need to be and have the accountability to do so,” Adams said.