About three years ago, Antonette Delgado became a driver in Los Angeles for a new kind of rideshare service. Unlike others, this one, HopSkipDrive, focused mainly on driving unaccompanied children 6 and older, a group Uber and Lyft don’t serve for liability reasons. Plus, Delgado had to demonstrate previous child care experience to qualify as a driver.
Through HopSkipDrive, Delgado made about $250 to $500 a week, supplementing her job as a campus aide for Los Angeles Unified School District.
But now, the 53-year-old has been hit—twice. Her job with LAUSD is on pause as schools are closed in response to contain the outbreak of COVID-19. That means she’s also seen a significant drop in ride requests. “I’m just taking things one day at a time,” says Delgado.
COVID-19 has rendered schoolchildren across the U.S. homebound for now, leaving HopSkipDrive and other startups like it, including Zūm and Kango, to figure out what to do without regular drop offs and pickups at schools.
Since February 2019, those three rideshare companies have raised at least $65 million in venture capital, and together employ more than 200 people. They’ve brought the auto world closer to education, with investments from the venture arms of groups like State Farm and carmakers BMW and Volvo.
ABC News report on ridesharing for kids
Food Deliveries and Virtual Tutors
In response to significant reduction in the volume of rides, rideshare for children companies have tested and implemented new ways to deploy their drivers. The companies have offered to deliver food and learning materials like laptops and textbooks to students’ homes. “Instead of kids going to schools, things have to come to them,” says Zūm CEO Ritu Narayan.
Zūm, founded in 2014, has about 3,000 contract drivers who service 250 school districts across six states. Recently, it has inked new contracts with Oakland Unified School District in California for food delivery and is in discussions with other districts and cities in the area.
Last year, the Redwood City, Calif.-based company expanded its operations beyond California to serve schools in Chicago, Seattle, Texas, Florida and Virginia. The company still plans to expand further into those markets. Whether meal delivery continues as a new part of Zūm’s business depends on what families need after the outbreak, Narayan says.
One of their drivers to take on food deliveries is LaShonda King. The 38-year-old has delivered meals in the Oakland area for an hour twice a week. Before the outbreak, she drove kids between home and school, daycare, sports practice and aftercare. King, who was on medical leave from her job as a flight attendant, now seeks ways to make up lost income from less driving.
King says it’s important that she delivers food to families in areas without nearby grocery stores and families who used to rely on schools for free or reduced-price lunch for their children. “It gives me something to look forward to,” she says.
Kango, founded in 2012 but using its current model since 2015, has tested a new strategy to connect children with drivers who serve as virtual tutors to help with schoolwork. The drivers have also been connected with families to lead children through 30-minute online activities to give parents breaks. “We’re reacting to what we heard back from” parents, says Beth Marr, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.
The company is open to making virtual sessions a part of its business model moving forward. Kango mainly serves California, but is open to expanding to more markets as demand returns.
HopSkipDrive, founded in 2014 and based in Los Angeles, was the only one of the three to confirm it has laid off staff due to COVID-19. CEO Joanna McFarland declined to say how many employees were laid off but did say HopSkipDrive has 100 full- and part-time employees. The company raised $22 million in a new round of funding in February. A blog post announcing the round noted that the company had a “team of over 100 employees.”
Zūm, by comparison, has about 100 full-time employees. The company reorganized in early January and has not laid off employees since. Marr declined to give a specific employee count but says Kango is “notably smaller than our competitors.”
“We had to make hard decisions to cut costs to ensure we can both help out the community now as well as strongly prepare for back to school,” McFarland says. “The schools will need us now more than ever.”
The company, which services eight states, has seen greater demand for services for seniors, such as taking them to grocery stores and doctors appointments. “We’re here for anyone who needs any extra caregiving,” McFarland says.
All three companies say existing school and district customers have indicated they will renew contracts for the upcoming academic year in fall 2020, an encouraging sign for resuming business once the U.S. is past the outbreak.
As for Delgado, the HopSkipDrive driver, she’s gotten a new job in security to help with income. She says she does wonder about the children she’s interacted with through the rideshare company. She’s driven so long now that some of the children have graduated up to middle school and high school. Delgado thinks about how the children would talk about their days and tell her the best routes to get home. “I do miss the kids,” she says.