Keller ISD, Tarrant County tap into child-safe ride-sharing services geared toward busy parents

Image description
Image description
Uber and Lyft have become household names in the ride-hailing business, but passengers have to be at least 18 years old to request a ride or must be accompanied by an adult. This leaves out busy parents who are scrambling for better solutions to getting their children to school and activities.

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.

Keller ISD and Tarrant County have also recently contracted with ride-hailing services to fill the gap in existing transportation services.

The school district’s Federal Programs Department began working with one service provider in August. KISD pays HopSkipDrive to transport about seven students living outside of the district due to special circumstances, said Leigh Cook, KISD 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.

Northwest ISD does not have any similar plans, NISD Communications Specialist Anthony Tosie said in an email. It currently partners with Reliant for bus transportation services.

HopSkipDrive is based in Los Angeles. It recently started serving the larger public in Dallas and surrounding suburbs, including Keller, Roanoke and areas of Northeast Fort Worth.

HopSkipDrive’s launch followed on the heels of New York-based VanGo, which was introduced in the DFW region over the summer. VanGo has not yet expanded into Fort Worth but plans to do so in the future.

A representative from another company called Zum confirmed via email that it, too, is expected to begin servicing the DFW area at a later, unspecified date.

But Dallas residents may be the most 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 and chief growth officer for Bubbl.

“[Nonprofits] can have a great program and be funded. But if people aren’t coming in using their social services, then it’s not working,” Adams said.

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 may carry additional fees if they can be accommodated.

Tarrant County Commissioners Court also approved a contract in October with Bubbl to help clients of county organizations, such as its public health department, criminal district attorney’s office, administrator’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 shuttles. 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, HopSkipDrive CEO Joanna McFarland said. She, along with two other women, got into the business because they were struggling to balance work and family life.

“We started HopSkipDrive really to solve our own problem as parents,” she said.

It seemed to McFarland that there were other families in the same boat.

“Dallas—overall, the metroplex—is a growing area,” 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.”

Executives said the demand for this service stems from traffic congestion, hectic schedules and large populations.

Companies catering to children have added some extra measures to put parents at ease when using these ride-hailing services. Drivers go through extensive background checks and often need a specific amount or kind of experience to be hired. Many apps have ride-tracking capabilities for parents to monitor rides as well as a support team to contact in case of emergencies. Parents typically receive driver identification details before their children get in the car. In addition, some have notifications to alert parents that their children have arrived at their destinations safely.

TARGET DEMOGRAPHICS

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.”

Jamrozik and her team monitor user signups, and demand has steadily advanced west of Dallas.

“In fact, there are a lot of parents in Fort Worth who are just waiting until that part of our service area [launches],” Jamrozik said. “We’re trying to expand consciously to make sure that we have enough drivers in that area, so that we can fulfill demand.”

SAFETY FEATURES

In the launch of all these apps, safety was at the forefront of the conversation, company executives said. HopSkipDrive and VanGo require drivers to have a certain number of years of caregiving experience. This could include parents, nurses, teachers and nannies.

More than 85% of VanGo drivers are mothers, Jamrozik said.

Meanwhile, Bubbl drivers are former or off-duty police officers, first responders, medics and other civil servants. Its cars also come equipped with cameras.

Drivers for all three service providers go through extensive background processing, such as fingerprinting and reference checks. Vehicles are also inspected before being deployed. Parents are given the driver’s name, photo and vehicle license plate. They can also count on notification alerts or monitor the route through the app.

And although minors can benefit from transportation services, the terms and conditions for these apps have an 18-years minimum age requirement for who can create accounts to order rides.

“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.
By Renee Yan
Renee Yan graduated May 2017 from the University of Texas in Arlington with a degree in journalism, joining Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in July.


MOST RECENT

A 24 Hour Fitness in Keller has closed due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
24 Hour Fitness closes only Keller location

The company has closed the Keller location and 10 other locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Keller will pay $5,000 of the $200,000 settlement, the rest of which will be covered by the Texas Municipal League. (Kira Lovell/Community Impact Newspaper)
City of Keller reaches settlement in police misconduct lawsuit

The lawsuit, filed in December, was resolved far quicker than most civil rights cases, according to attorney Scott Palmer.

Krust Pizza Co. opened Jan. 21 at 7701 Stacy Road, Ste. 300, McKinney. (Matt Payne/Community Impact Newspaper)
Krust Pizza Co. opens in McKinney; P.F. Chang's coming to Flower Mound and more DFW news

Read the latest business and community news from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The Magnolia development in Roanoke is expected to open this spring. (Rendering courtesy Magnolia)
Major developments driving growth in Roanoke, Keller, north Fort Worth

The Magnolia, a mixed-use, residential and retail project, highlights the continued progress on Oak Street in Roanoke; Keller City Council has greenlighted the first phase of Center Stage, a new retail and residential project; and in north Fort Worth, entertainment venue Truck Yard is set to open at Alliance Town Center by the end of the year.

There are seven Pokey O’s locations in Texas. (Courtesy Pokey O's)
Pokey O's cookie and ice cream store coming soon to Roanoke

The cookies and ice cream company will offer catering starting March 1, and the owners said they expect to bring an ice cream truck to events by summer.

The city of Roanoke is planning a beautification project on US 377 following the completion of an ongoing Texas Department of Transportation project in the area. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Roanoke plans US 377 beautification project

The city is paying for upgrades regarding stone work and streetlights.

Scott Palmer administers a COVID-19 vaccine shot to a Roanoke police officer. (Sandra Sadek/Community Impact Newspaper)
Vaccination hubs open in Plano, McKinney Fire Dept. and more DFW-area news

Read the top stories from the past week from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Police Chief Brad Fortune encouraged Keller residents to contact him with questions or suggestions, even after the Jan. 21 town hall meeting. (Kira Lovell/Community Impact Newspaper)
Keller police chief addresses discipline, accountability and more at town hall

Police Chief Brad Fortune outlined his department's goals and answered questions from Keller residents.

Scott Palmer administers a COVID-19 vaccine shot to a Roanoke police officer. (Sandra Sadek/Community Impact Newspaper)
2 vaccination hubs to open in Plano; BigShots Golf coming to Fort Worth and more DFW news

Read the latest business and community news from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The first Las Palapas location in Dallas-Fort Worth is coming soon to Keller. (Courtesy Las Palapas)
Las Palapas restaurant coming soon to Keller

Las Palapas restaurants features classic Mexican cuisine.

Gyms and personal trainers, such as Pure Barre, are offering virtual workout classes during the coronaviurs pandemic. (Courtesy Pure Barre)
Pure Barre fitness center now open on Heritage Trace Parkway in north Fort Worth

Group workout classes are aimed at strengthening and toning muscles.

A pharmacy employee prepares a COVID-19 vaccine dose at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas. (Courtesy Baylor Scott & White Health)
Baylor Scott & White Health opens COVID-19 vaccine registration for Phase 1B in North Texas

Baylor Scott & White Health has begun contacting patients who qualify under Phase 1B to schedule them for the COVID-19 vaccine.