For generations, the milestone 16th birthday has meant a driver’s license and newfound freedom. But with the rise of ride-sharing services like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, some kids are gaining independence even younger. A new trend, favored by many working parents and their busy kids, helps keeps families moving, reports CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford.
Two days a week, 16-year-old Maya Harr walks out of her Virginia high school and gets into a car provided by Uber. She takes the ride-sharing service 10 miles to her ballet class in Washington. Maya’s parents, Karla and Brian, are not in the car with her, but they are on board with the ride.
« We tried to be the ones driving her, and it’s really hard to balance everything and be there every time, » her father, Brian, said.
Having a driver may sound like the ultimate luxury, but these days a growing number of working parents are turning to ride-sharing services for their busy kids.
« It wasn’t our first pick, but we needed something, and we had a high enough confidence level, » Brian said.
Competition in the industry has made services like Uber and Lyft more affordable.
« When we get the Uber statement of what the ride is, it’s considerably less than a taxi, and it’s less than what we were paying the nanny to drive, » her mother, Karla, said.
Karla and Brian feel it gives them more control. They set up an account to call for the car and can track its route on their phone.
« I know myself, I like that I can see where the car is, » she said. « In the first month or two I would watch that app move. »
But technically it’s against the rules. Uber says you must be at least 18 years old to take the service alone. Those rules generally aren’t enforced for teens but could keep younger kids from using Uber alone.
« It doesn’t change our decision to use the service. I was surprised, I didn’t read that when signing up and I don’t think anyone has ever asked [her] age, » Karla said.
New York University Stern School of Business professor Arun Sundararajan said it’s one of the top examples of today’s new sharing economy but still comes with risks.
« Because of the fact that Uber’s brand and Lyft’s brand have emerged very rapidly and have sort of taken on the sheen of, you know, ‘This is a big company; I can trust this company,' » Sundararajan said.
But he urged caution.
« Until we understand what the risks associated with this are, and that can only come with time. I would be cautious about engaging in behaviors like sending kids alone in an Uber or Lyft, » he said.
Uber conducts background checks and screens drivers, but it also clearly states it has no liability if something goes wrong — that’s between the passenger and driver.
Those limitations have led to more kid-specific transportation services, offering increased security and rides for younger children. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Shuddle employs all women drivers and Boost, backed by Mercedes-Benz, has a concierge who rides with the young passengers.
In Los Angeles, three working moms started HopSkipDrive to solve their own transportation problems.
« Your options are to beg, borrow and steal from friends and impose on your friends, » HopSkipDrive CEO and co-founder Joanna McFarland said. « You’ve got multiple carpools for each kid, for each activity. The carpools are always on the verge of falling apart. »
Along with a rigorous screening and training process for new drivers, HopSkipDrive requires at least five years of child-care experience.
« We like to say, you know, our drivers are hand-picked by picky moms, » McFarland said. « We do a lot more than most people do when they are picking their nanny. »
But until these specialty services are available nationwide, overloaded parents and their kids continue to hit that « request Uber » button on their phones.
« You just make it work, and fortunately we have those resources to make our chaotic lives run just a little bit smoother, » Karla said.
Uber told CBS News that if they discover that someone under 18 has set up their own account, instead of using their parents’, it will be deactivated.
© 2015 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Source: http://www.cbsnews.com/ – March 25, 2015