Business & Real Estate

Ride-hailing smartphone app caters to kids

Alicia Castro/Town Crier
Los Altos Hills resident Nikki Willemsen, left, rides with one of her regular Zum drivers, Khaterah Atefy, a mother of three who drives for the service up to six hours daily.

Living in the land of on-demand, Los Altos Hills resident Frank Willemsen often found himself with an immediate problem: finding a trustworthy person to help cart his kids from point A to point B.

As he discovered, there’s an app for that.

Zum, which supplies rides for children ages 5-15, last week officially introduced its iOS and Android apps and carpools after launching solo rides throughout the South Bay and Peninsula in January.

Willemsen first heard the start-up’s pitch last year, then researched the company for himself. Five months ago, he decided to give it a try.

The father of two kids – a daughter in volleyball and son in soccer – Willemsen said Zum swoops in during planned rush-hour activities or unscheduled doubled-up sports days.

“For me, it’s ideal,” he said. “They are really addressing a pain point in my life, which is that I can’t be at different places at the same time.”

Drive-in support

When Zum CEO and founder Ritu Narayan first considered on-demand ride hailing for kids, she knew she’d have to clear one high hurdle – gaining parents’ trust. Herself a Silicon Valley working mom, she started the company with her own needs in mind.

“I found it really hard to find someone trustworthy and reliable to take my kids to school and activities, and even stay back with them,” she said.

When Narayan founded Zum in Menlo Park, she entered a growing market of Uber-for-kids apps – Kango, HopSkipDrive and the now-defunct Shuddle, to name a few. Narayan said she set her company apart by assigning families a limited pool of caretaking drivers – or “Zumers” – based on parents’ preferences.

All Zumers undergo a rigorous hiring process. Applicants must pass California’s child care Trust- Line certification and national-level FBI and Department of Justice background checks, as well as ongoing reviews of driving records and referrals. They also go through personal interviews covering reactions to various situations and their sense of purpose.

Narayan said Zum mostly hires through internal referrals, and according to the company’s website, many are part-time professionals, stay-at-home moms and nannies. Drivers can earn between $30 and $35 per hour, according to Zum’s website.

“Our mission is to provide families with dependable rides for their kids and to create flexible jobs for child care providers,” Narayan said.

One of Willemsen’s Zumers, Khaterah Atefy, the mother of three children, has been driving with the company for a couple of months.

“I have a busy family,” she said. “It’s flexible work and I set my own hours.”

Backseat drivers

Parents can tap the app for on-demand rides or recurring transportation up to one year in advance. During each trip, they can track the car’s location, speed and arrival time.

Zum charges based on time and mileage, starting at $16 per ride. Rides average $24 at 10 miles. Additional child care – say, if a parent is running late or a Zumer oversees an activity – costs $6 per 15 minutes.

“The great thing about it is that parents only need to pay for what they use,” Narayan said.

With the new Zum apps, parents can pool rides; when families split the fare, the cost per child drops.

Since piloting the service last July, Zum has provided more than 40,000 rides to kids around the Bay Area. With the collapse of competitor Shuddle in April, Zum signed up more than 600 new families and more than 100 ex-Shuddle drivers. The company now operates throughout the Bay Area.

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