I know this issue comes up a lot with rideshare drivers. You get a ping, drive to the pick-up location, and find out that some kid needs a ride home. A couple issues arise when this situation occurs. For one, the parent(s) who arranged the trip for their child is still a paying customer. It’s technically not illegal to transport a minor (i.e., a child who falls in the age range of 6-17); however, it’s obvious the kids parents are too busy to chaperon.
Similarly, it is illegal to transport children under six without a car seat. Although this situation is unlikely (i.e., using Uber/Lyft to drive a minor under six unsupervised) I’m sure it’s happened somewhere in this country, at least once or twice. According to the company’s policies, you must be 18 years old to use the app. Just like putting five people into your Prius, or picking up passengers at the airport, transporting an unsupervised minor is frowned upon by the driver-partners. Often times, drivers are faced with making an in-the-moment judgement call regarding how to handle these gray areas.
This begs the obvious question of, “why doesn’t someone make an on-demand car service directed just at kids?” And the response is: someone did, and it didn’t work. In fact, Silicon Valley is abundant with failed startup companies that have attempted to ride the coattails of mega-successful startups like Uber or Lyft. So, how are drivers supposed to handle this issue?
Here’s a few suggestions that I typically have implemented in past:
- Contact an adult before starting the trip. This can easily be accomplished by calling the person who summoned the Uber, or asking the child to call his/her mom for you to verify that they’re sanctioned to be riding in an Uber alone.
- Allow the passenger to enter your vehicle. If the minor’s parent/guardian gives you verbal consent to transport him/her, and the child is over the age of six (i.e., they legally aren’t required to have a car seat) then treat them like any other paying customer. Remember, the appreciative parent will likely be rating you at the end of the trip, an easy way to snatch up a 5-star rating!
- Refuse to provide the ride service. Of course, you can always refuse to transport the child if they don’t have at least an older sibling present with them too. If the parent is unreachable, just tell the child to contact their parent(s) or return to their prior original destination (i.e., the pick-up address). You can always peel off leaving the poor sap standing there too.
In a recent article published in the Chicago Tribune, parents are cited celebrating the service Uber/Lyft provides them by transporting their children. When parents are too busy (which is often the case), they’ve relied upon ridesharing companies to do the job.
Update: The startup company Shuddle has since closed it’s mini-van doors. See article linked above.
Without a rideshare service that directly targets children, adults will often turn to a more “trusted name” like Uber/Lyft, rather than relying on their son or daughter’s ability to flag down a yellow cab. Similarly, having to move their child from Point A to Point B, where Point A is nowhere near the parent’s place of business, is more easily accomplished with the assistance of smartphone apps. Not only can a ride be summoned remotely, but the requester can visually track the ride in progress in real time. A service like this is highly valuable for parents.
What if you’re involved in a crash during a ride with a minor?
Technically, you’ll have to go through your personal insurance since Uber’s on-trip insurance policy doesn’t extend to juveniles. This is assuming that you have personal insurance, not commercial insurance, for your vehicle (which you do if you’re driving with Uber or Lyft). In terms of commercial vehicles, being at fault for a collision automatically results in a varying deductible (e.g., mine is $1,000) for damages. God forbid there’s any personal injuries, which likely would covered by your professional liability insurance (up to $1M) if you’re a commercial (i.e., TLC) driver. For drivers not driving in New York City whom are involved in a crash while transporting a juvenile, the parent’s health insurance would be subjected to liability. Although, they may seek legal recourse against the driver to compensate for medical bills. Either way, consulting an attorney in this situation is your best option.
What about high schoolers?
High school kids have figured out that Uber and/or Lyft are convenient ways to get to/from school on days when both parents are unavailable. Personally, these are my least favorite types of rides because they live not five miles from school, and easily can walk home. Lazy kids. Furthermore, you wonder how they have an account to begin with being under the age of eighteen. Most likely, their parents gave them their credit card # to open an account with. When I first started working with Uber, I admittedly have helped some of these kids out in the past. I think I was less disillusioned by the whole process back then. Now, I work in New York and would never even get a request like this; however, when I was working in New Jersey and saw a trip request generated from a high school it resulted in an automatic cancellation.
Along these lines, when I was feeling cheeky and received a trip request like this, I’d sometimes drive to their pin to intentionally trigger the arrival notification. After five minutes time, I’d cancel the trip with “rider no-show” to receive the kid’s $4 cancellation fee. I realize this is punitive; however, I’m really opposed to driving high school kids around, and hoping they’ll learn to stop using the Uber service. I doubt it, but one can only hope.
Make arrangements for repeat business.
There are exceptions to every rule, and this situation is no different. If the high school student needs a ride on a specific time/day every week, you can set up a schedule with their parents outside of Uber/Lyft. These sort of “under the table” deals can be somewhat lucrative, if you’re able to bypass Uber’s commission through a direct pay service (e.g., Square). It makes sense for you to be drive the high schooler in this scenario, because the service is consistent from week to week. You’re most likely the best positioned individual to drive the student to school, if you’re receiving pings from within five miles of your house.
Sexual assault and/or rape complaints appear in Uber’s Customer Service.
Finally, there’s the worst-case scenario. Parents should be concerned about their children’s safety after data from Uber’s Customer Service Representative (CSR) department were leaked on the internet recently. Buzzfeed.com posted images of thousands of support tickets from December, 2012 to August, 2015 in their database. The troubling issue is that these were results that returned a search query for “rape or “sexual assault” in the titles of the support tickets.
Uber did respond, and had a pretty shotty explanation for the mass quantity of these complaints. They also provided data of their own that heavily dilute these numbers. Included in part of their response the company explains,
“five meet Uber’s standard of an actual [rape] incident related to a trip.”
Along these lines, it’s in the company’s best interest to make customers feel safe while using their smartphone app. Uber continues to cite their rating system as a quality control measure. They also claim to perform extensive background checks for each independent contractor (IC) that applies to become a driver-partner.
Taking Uber to court head-on is an impossibility.
The best the parents could hope for would be to sue the driver, if he/she was the perpetrator of the crime. Because of the company’s gigantic slush-fund cash reserve, any legal battle against either rideshare company ultimately would be useless. I feel that “the truth is still out there” in regards to the number of occurrences of sexual visitations and/or assaults; however, the number of cases of rape that actually have occurred in the past few years is relatively low.
Again, Uber did respond to allegations of driver’s running rampant including:
Every Uber trip is GPS-tracked and passengers can share their route in real time with family or friends, as well as rate their drivers at the end of each trip (and vice versa)
Which is why parents love it in the first place. However, the number of incidents of sexual “bad-behavior” that actually have occurred in the past few years is relatively low. Think about how many rides take place on an individual day. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands across America. For there to be only a handful of rapes across the lifespan of ridesharing is statistically very good. My word to parents is to consider all of the angles before firing up the Uber or Lyft app for your child. If you do choose to use us for your daily errands, at least send the kid down with some tip money. 🙂
That’s basically it for this subject. What are your experiences? Any other advice you might want to add?