When Bay Area “Uber for kids” service Shuddle launched last year, it raised a few eyebrows, given the recurring safety concerns around ride-sharing services for adults. But aside from a tussle with the California Public Utilities Commission around child-care rules, with which Shuddle now complies, there have been few reported issues. The company knows it would have no business without earning parents’ trust, and requires its drivers, almost all of whom are women, to undergo thorough background checks and have caregiver experience.
Now, following the success of carpooling extensions like LyftLine and UberPool, Shuddle is introducing its own Shuddle Carpool feature, created by female engineers, for a family customer base that’s even more accustomed to carpooling than commuting adults.
“When I first started talking to [Shuddle founder Nick Allen] about working here, he already knew that this is where we were going to go,” says Corianda Leste, Shuddle’s head of user experience and design. “He knew that creating the ability to carpool checks a lot of boxes for both the business and customers. It’s something that families are already doing, and it gets the price per ride down for each family. It makes kids feel more at ease when people they know are riding along, and as a business it helps us be more efficient because most of our rides are concentrated at schools and neighborhoods.”
Unlike other ride-sharing apps, Shuddle Carpool serves families who know each other, where all riders either start or end at the same destination, or both. For a minimum cost of $8 per family per ride (versus $15 for a single-family Shuddle ride), a Shuddle user can schedule a carpool and invite other families from their contact list, who get a link to register for Shuddle if they haven’t already, and are asked to add their own details for the ride. Carpools for two to four riders can be scheduled until noon the day before the ride, and cost one-third to one-half of the amount of single-family rides (which can be booked until an hour beforehand, with a $10 surcharge for same-day bookings). Shuddle doesn’t offer on-demand rides, at least not yet, to assure parents that a driver is booked and rides are confirmed. The service doesn’t have concrete age limits, but all riders need to be able to legally ride without a child restraint based on height and weight, meaning that parents and seniors can use Shuddle as well as kids.
“Families are trying to do this work anyway,” says Carly Lutz, Shuddle’s SVP of family experience. “I know that my eight-year-old daughter is going to be at school or camp with a friend. We know who the families are who are going to be at these activities, but actually figuring out the carpool is complicated. What Shuddle Carpool allows families to do is literally say to each other, let’s carpool together, we’re both going to camp. And from that point forward, Shuddle can take care of everything for them. With a regular carpool on any given day of the week, one family still has to take the hit. One of the parents has to say, okay, I’ll leave work early that day and do carpool. In this situation, it gives families the peace of mind that their children are riding together, with our background-checked drivers in cars that have been inspected, and parents don’t have to make that trade-off to be the driver of the carpool. They’re already doing that work, and we’re just taking over much earlier in the process.”
The new Carpool feature was developed primarily by women with families who have experience shouldering a lot of the carpooling burden. In addition to Lutz and Leste, Shuddle’s head of engineering, Sophy Lee, drew from the needs of her mom and her 11-year-old brother to inform the experience.
Leste says that one of the biggest challenges in designing Shuddle Carpool was the need for regular, accurate communications to multiple families at once.
“From UX perspective, giving parents peace of mind is our number-one priority, so one of our features is keeping them in the loop about the status of the ride,” says Leste. “We send a lot of messages about the progress of the ride, such as, ‘Your driver is on the way,’ ‘Your driver is waiting outside,’ ‘Your driver has dropped Sophie off at gymnastics.’ So we’re just making sure along the way as we introduce these additional users that we’re getting that messaging just right. It’s really important that we’re getting the right information at the right time to all of the parents involved.”
Leste says that beta testing has gone smoothly, and Shuddle Carpool will be available in all of the California areas that Shuddle serves as of today (Marin, Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, Burlingame, San Jose, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Mountain View).
“With trust and safety being so paramount to the success of the company, we can’t release a feature this complex without it really working right out of the gate,” says Lutz. “It’s not like other products, where you can go out with something that kind of works, and get feedback, make customers a little mad on the way where they’ll be a little forgiving. We don’t have that luxury of people being forgiving when we’re driving their kids around.”