ridesharing for kids

New convenient ridesharing service for kids rolls out in Houston

The new service rolling out in Houston is part Uber for kids, part carpool. Photo courtesy of HopSkipDrive

Living in Houston is great, but it does present some challenges — especially for busy families. Imagine this scenario: it's Tuesday morning, Mom has an early office meeting, Dad has to fly out of IAH on business, and three kids have to be transported to two different schools ... and it all has to happen before 8 am.

That scene probably plays closer to reality for many Bayou City parents. Add into it the regular crush of our city's congestion and it's enough for anyone to lose their mind.

Enter HopSkipDrive. Part Uber, part carpool the service just launched in Houston, billing itself as a safe an innovative transportation solution for both families and schools. It's already working with more than 170 schools and districts nationwide in cities in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Virginia, as well as Washington, D.C.

The company provides transit solutions for students of all levels and abilities who may have different schedules from day-to-day, as well as youth in foster care and families whose school choice placements don't fit neatly into a bus routing plan.

The system works similarly to other ride shares. Parents download the HopSkipDrive app or use the company's website to request rides for children who are at least six years old. Parents can customize ride instructions with notes about carpool line, pickup and drop-off procedures, and other details. Before the ride, parents receive a photo profile of their CareDriver, which they can share with their child and their school. During the ride, parents receive progress alerts at each step.

If all that has alarm bells going off in parents' and educators' heads, HopSkipDrive understands, and the company assures them it has a rigorous screening procedure for its drivers. Every CareDriver has at least five years of care-giving experience and has passed a 15-point certification process.

This certification is a stringent vetting process, including fingerprinting, background checks using FBI and Department of Justice database searches, driving record checks, and in-person meetings. Drivers must own or lease a four-door vehicle that is not more than 10 years old that can seat between four and seven passengers, and must pass a yearly 19-point inspection.

In addition, parents can get live text notifications during their child's ride, HopSkipDrive's Safe Ride Support (SRS) is the only U.S.-based team in the industry that monitors every ride in real time. Staffed with former 911 operators, EMTs, childcare specialists, and parents, SRS ensures every rider is delivered safely to their destination.

"As a working mother of two, I understand how challenging it is to balance your children's ever-changing daily schedules with workplace demands," says Joanna McFarland, the company's founder and CEO in a press release that announced the company's Houston launch. "Parents shouldn't have to choose between their careers and their children's education and activities, but that tough choice is very real for countless families. HopSkipDrive wants parents to take comfort in knowing they have a caregiver to rely on to get their kids where they need to go, safely and without worry. We're thrilled to arrive in the Greater Houston Area to answer the transportation needs of many students, families and schools."

And individual schools or school districts can also partner with the ride share service for their student transportation needs.

"HopSkipDrive is not only 60 percent less expensive than our previous car service solution, but far more reliable," says Mike Hush, director of transportation with Littleton Public Schools in Colorado. "We had worked with HopSkipDrive for only a few weeks before we quadrupled the number of students riding with CareDrivers."

The company touts itself as both an asset and a success in cities around the country. With its working-mom founding team, heightened approach to safety, and real-time technology approach, HopSkipDrive could provide a valuable service for Houston's busy working families.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

CaringBand is using a simple technology to better connect family and friends to the ones they love. Courtesy of CaringBand

When Charley Donaldson's mother-in-law was battling cancer, he and his wife had great support from their friends and family. But they also knew there were a lot of people who cared about them who didn't know what to say or do during such a challenging time.

"It's like, you want to show people that you care about them, but you don't want to interrupt their day, or you don't want to be a burden to them if they aren't up to company," Donaldson says about the common reactions he heard from others – and often felt himself when he had friends going through similar struggles. "There had to be a way to share the idea of, 'Hey, I'm thinking about you.'"

It took three years of rattling around that idea before CaringBand came to life. The light-up bracelet is Bluetooth enabled, and connects to a mobile app. A person gives the bracelet to a loved one, who then pairs it with his or her smartphone. App users can send and receive pre-set messages of encouragement to and from other app users.

Those wearing a CaringBand bracelet get alerted by a blinking light or vibration that lets them know someone is thinking about them. The wearer then reads these encouraging messages on the CaringBand app when convenient and with no need to respond.

"When we pilot tested it, we were super excited to find out what we thought was validated," says Donaldson. "People really loved knowing that others were keeping them in their thoughts, and those who sent messages liked that they didn't have to worry about saying or doing the wrong thing."

Donaldson says he wanted The CaringBand to be as easy as possible for people to use, and also ensure that it was a solid support system. When someone is going through medical treatments, he knows that can be exhausting, and he also realizes that friends and family want to be able to do something, anything, to express their love and support.

"If you're a normal, compassionate person, you want to show you care about someone," he says. "This lets you do that in your own way."

And while it might sound like The CaringBand is designed to make the senders of messages feel better about offering a good thought for someone, Donaldson says those going through treatments have really loved seeing their bracelets light to up to tell them they're on someone's mind. That small show of support has made a big difference, they told Donaldson in surveys.

"She is sitting on the couch having so much fun reading her messages," says one user in a testimonial. "The smile on her face is priceless." "People tell you they think of you and pray for you all the time," read another. "The bracelet gives you a reminder that they really are."

"We made it super easy," he says. "It's a hardware to software solution and we wanted to erase as many friction points as possible in its creation. This is two touches of a smart phone."

Currently, the CaringBand app is live and functional. The bracelet is still in developmental stages, and Donaldson says the team is working with individuals and groups such as the Tyler Robinson Foundation to further test it. The bracelet should be a go for full distribution and sale by the first quarter of 2020.

"Obviously, this doesn't replace driving over to see someone or having a cup of coffee with a friend," says Donaldson. "But it is a great supplemental tool to show your love and care when you might not know what else to do."