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Ride-hailing apps get kids around town when parents are busy

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A new crop of ride-hail services in California are providing rides to 8- to 16-year-old kids who need to get to school, a sporting event or a social activity.

On Tuesday, one such company, Shuddle, introduced ShuddleMe, an app that lets the kids book the ride themselves within an hour of when the service is needed. Before this, parents had to arrange for the car, and do so at least a day in advance. ShuddleMe still requires parental approval.

Besides the San Francisco-based Shuddle, kid-friendly ride-hailing options include HopSkipDrive and Boost, an experimental service backed by car maker Mercedes-Benz. Both those services require rides to be booked at least a day in advance.

These alternatives are seizing an opportunity created by better known ride-hailing services such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, which all have policies against giving rides to minors who aren’t accompanied by an adult.

Shuddle charges a $9 monthly membership fee and its fares are about 15 percent higher than Uber’s for comparable trips. The membership fee and surcharge help pay for background checks of Shuddle’s drivers. At present, Shuddle operates in San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Mateo and Marin counties.

The company is trying to avoid the complaints that have bedeviled Uber about inadequately screened drivers. In the most extreme cases, Uber drivers have faced allegations of sexual assault and other unseemly conduct.

Unlike Uber, Shuddle routinely interviews prospective drivers face to face. Its background checks scan courts and other local law enforcement agencies for serious crimes and even minor infractions. They also must either be parents or have previous experience working with kids as nannies, baby sitters, coaches or nurses.

Parents can track the progress of their kids’ rides and Shuddle says its staff also monitors each trip.

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