It’s 4 pm on a Tuesday and your other half is out of town on business. You’re stuck in crazy traffic on 93, and if your daughter misses soccer practice tonight she can’t play in Friday’s game. Enter Zemcar and Sheprd, the two new Boston-area ridesharing apps specifically designed for children and riders in need of extra care.
We caught up with Zemcar co-founder and CEO Juliette Kayyem, who tells Exhale that the service blossomed from necessity. “As a mother of three kids, I was really hitting that pain point where they didn’t need a babysitter, but I couldn’t get them from point A to point B,” she says. Uber and Lyft don’t insure minors and leave a lot up to chance.
Launched in 2017, Zemcar functions like the other rideshare services but takes extra security measures to provide parents with peace of mind. Through the app, parents can schedule onetime or regular rides, provide permissions and instructions for drivers, and monitor the trip until the rider arrives safely at the destination. The service does operate at a higher price point, averaging $15 (per pickup location) for a two-mile ride.
Kayyem is no stranger to the security world. She served as President Obama’s assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security and authored the best-selling book Security Mom: An Unclassified Guide to Protecting Our Homeland and Your Home. As a result, Zemcar has many safety measures in place. In order to work with the app, drivers need to pass a multitiered background screening, an interview, and go through several rounds of training, including an in-person coaching session and a vehicle check.
Because an interest in working with children is required, 75 percent of the drivers are women. “We feel like we are providing access to the shared ride economy to women,” explains Kayyem. Many women don’t drive for Uber or the like because of safety concerns; Zemcar allows them to work in that space with fewer deterrents.
Once the drivers are on the app, parents or family members can speak with each driver directly by video chat in advance of a ride. As you use the app you can build up a “circle of trust,” which is a group of drivers who you’ve met and worked with previously and who you feel comfortable trusting with your children. Over time, this tool creates a pool of prescreened drivers to utilize.
It doesn’t end there. You can track your loved one’s journey on your phone and live video stream the ride to make sure everything is going smoothly. You can also assign adults to hand off and receive kids at each end of the trip. For emergencies, the Zemcar app has a panic button riders can press if under duress.
Zemcar, which has an age minimum of 8 years old, isn’t just for children, although that’s a substantial portion of the business. “We definitely view the market as open to any rider who wants something a little bit more,” Kayyem explains. This could also mean seniors and riders with disabilities.
For Newton-area residents, there’s another option: Sheprd. Also launched in 2017, Sheprd operates a little differently from the Zemcar rideshare model. Sheprd owns and operates its own fleet of vehicles and hires drivers as W-2 employees. Each driver is equipped with a 7D license, the state-required license for school pupil transportation vehicles.
“Sheprd is solving one of parents’ biggest headaches, which is how to get from point A to point B,” COO Will Hawkins tells Exhale. The service doesn’t just transport children to school, although it is geared toward kids in grades K-12 (ages 4-18); it can take them anywhere in the Newton area for a flat rate of $17 (per child). You can use the ridesharing app for destinations outside of Newton, on either the pickup or drop-off end, but the price will be higher. Rides can be scheduled ahead of time or arranged on demand (up to 20 minutes in advance), either by phone call or using the Sheprd app.
Here’s how it works: Once you’ve requested a car, the Sheprd technology creates a route that combines your child’s ride with other rides going in a similar direction. Then all the kids are transported together, school bus-style, to their different destinations. You’ll receive text-message updates when your child is picked up and dropped off. While current service is limited to the Newton area and surrounding suburbs, the company plans to expand not only through the Boston metro area but also across Massachusetts.
Safety is a top priority for Sheprd. “In addition to the 7D license, our drivers go through national background checks and a Breathalyzer test every time they get in the car,” says Hawkins. Drivers also need to be certified in pediatric first aid. Those applying for the 7D license go through a number of rigorous tests, including physical and mental examinations. They also must pass a CORI (criminal offender record information) check and a SORI (sex offender registry information) check.
Children are required to wear seat belts at all times, and federally approved booster seats are available upon request. All Sheprd drivers wear uniforms, and every vehicle in the fleet is branded with the Sheprd logo and an official “School Bus” sign. This way there’s no concern about your child getting into the wrong vehicle.
Whether you choose the Zemcar rideshare program or the Sheprd vehicle fleet, both businesses are designed to help you navigate your busy life. “One thing for working parents to remember is that it’s OK to delegate this as well,” encourages Kayyem. “You’ve got a dog walker and a housekeeper and Peapod and Amazon delivery; we can be a part of the team that makes your life easier.” And, really, who doesn’t want that?