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Ride sharing is so common that “Uber” is now a verb — as in “I’ll Uber there.” But what about ride sharing with kids? It can be convenient, but there are a few things parents need to know before summoning an Uber with kids. From car seats to airport pickups, here’s a complete guide to ride sharing with kids.
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Using Ride Share Services like Uber with Kids
I remember the first time I used a ride sharing service as an adult. I was heading home from a girls’ night. My husband had dropped me off because I knew I was going to have a few cocktails. My plan was to “try this Uber thing” everyone was talking about. A friend showed me how to set up the app on my phone. I summoned a ride, got home safely and I was sold on rideshare.
I began to use Uber (Uber being used synonymously with any ride sharing service) when I was going out at night alone. My night vision isn’t the greatest. I used Uber when I knew I’d have to deal with paid parking that wasn’t close to where I wanted to be. My husband and I began to routinely use Uber on date nights or trips to the theater.
Uber became my go-to for early morning airport runs. My husband could sleep in and not rouse our kids at zero dark thirty to get me on a 6 a.m. flight. Ride sharing was safe, reasonably priced (mostly) and easy.
But using Uber with kids? That was something altogether different.
Is it Safe to Use Uber with Kids?
Bottom line: yes, it is safe if you keep up with car seat and booster seat requirements and follow your instincts. If you’re comfortable riding in a taxi with your kids, you’re probably going to be just fine using Uber or Lyft with your kids. There are safety and common sense things to consider, but ride sharing is generally considered a safe, easy and smart way to travel.
Although this information is written with the traveling family in mind, you can use it to navigate any situation where you want to use a ride share with kids.
The Basics of Ride Sharing
Before we talk about using Uber with kids, let’s talk about using Uber (and other ride sharing services) in general.
Here’s how it works:
Install an App. Yes. You need a smartphone if you want to ride share. The Uber App and the Lyft App are both available free in the iTunes Store or the Google Play Store.
Set Up Your Profile. This will include your payment information. You can store a credit or debit card or link to a PayPal account. You’ll be able to add details such as your home address and a profile picture.
TravelingMom Tip: Keep your profile picture current and use one that really looks like you. Your driver will often use this to recognize you in a crowd.
Use the App to Summon a Ride. When you want to go somewhere, you open the app, select where you are and then punch in where you want to go. You can type in an address (usually the easiest) or drop a pin on a digital map. The app will tell you how much the ride will cost, match you with an available driver in your area and give you an ETA (estimated time of arrival). It also will show the driver’s name and photo along with the make, model, color and license plate of the vehicle.
Check the Price: The cost of a ride can change based on the type of vehicle, the time of day, and whether it’s a “pool” car. A ride in a pool car will be cheaper but may take longer because the driver will pick up other passengers along the way. This may not be the best option for traveling with kids.
Watch Your Driver’s Progress. The app will display a map and a little icon of your driver’s car. You’ll be able to watch the driver’s progress to know when to look for the approaching vehicle. The app will notify you when the driver is nearby and when he or she arrives. Never get into a ride share without first confirming the car and driver in front of you are the same as the car and driver shown in the app!
You’re Being Graded. Watch your behavior; it could make it tougher to hail a ride share in the future. That’s because the drivers can rate you as a customer just as you can rate the service you get from your driver.
Payment is Automatic. Once you get to where you’re going, the app will process your payment. You will be asked whether you want to add a tip, and how much, and asked to rate your driver.
Can You Uber Outside a City Center?
I live in a very suburban area outside a major city. A Lyft driver once referred to it as “deep into the suburbs.”
When ride sharing first came on the scene, it was difficult to get an Uber or Lyft in my area (the app will typically try to match you with ride share drivers nearby.) It was almost impossible to get an airport pickup at 4:30 a.m. (Ugh, right?) which is my most common need. Nowadays, lots of people are driving Uber and Lyft as a side hustle or a full-time job. I rarely have to wait more than 15 minutes to have a ride at my door. In major cities such as New York or Los Angeles, your rides will typically show up much faster.
Even though Uber is a common term, the ride sharing service Lyft is almost equally as popular. I tend to use Lyft because it was the first app to allow you to schedule a ride in advance. Since I live “deep into the suburbs” and use ride share for early morning airport runs, using the “reserve in advance” feature assured me someone would actually be there to get me. Uber now offers the option to schedule in advance but I’ve stuck with Lyft…for no particular reason.
It’s Not Just Uber Anymore
I find the difference between Uber and Lyft to be negligible. The fares are usually about the same. Most ride share drivers drive for both Uber and Lyft.
But there are other options. Apps like Flywheel and Curb are the taxicab industry’s effort to regain some of the customer base they’ve lost to ride share services. Both Flywheel and Curb allow you to use traditional taxi services summoned via an app.
One of the reasons Uber and Lyft are so popular is that the apps are so easy to navigate. Trying to hail a taxi on a busy street or actually dialing seven digits to request a car where you have to (gasp) talk to someone, are largely unappealing in today’s digital world. Flywheel and Curb will put you into a regular taxi versus a rideshare vehicle, which might be a little bit nicer, but you’re talking about getting from point a to point b, so…
Another ride share service worth mentioning is Via. It’s a cheaper option and may take longer than Uber, Lyft, or a traditional taxi. That’s because Via will stop to pick up other customers, similar to ride share pool cars. I have never used Via and it doesn’t seem like the best option for families traveling with kids, especially younger ones. Via is only available in limited markets.
And then there is HopSkipDrive, which is sort of an “Uber for kids.” This is an app that connects you to a “care driver” who will pick up your kids and bring them to you or to another place of your choosing. Do you need someone to pick up your child at school, take her to ballet lessons and then home? Yes, there’s an app for that. HopSkipDrive can be your “once in a while” backup plan or take your place in the carpool. Tempting, isn’t it?
Obviously, parents are going to want to dive deeper into the driver vetting procedures when unaccompanied minors are involved.
Is Ride Sharing Really Safe?
“I’m going to summon some random guy using an app, get in the car with him and hope I get home without getting chopped up into little pieces?” Me, when I first heard about ride sharing.
So, how safe is it really? Well, let’s go back to taxis for a second. A taxi company will conduct background checks on its drivers. So will a ride sharing company. There are some variations on how these background checks are conducted based on location. Ride share companies may conduct background checks through a third party. Ride share drivers may not undergo the same level of drug and alcohol testing as taxi drivers. Also, once they’re hired on, the process for monitoring a Lyft or Uber driver isn’t as regimented as a taxi driver. This means your friendly Uber guy or gal could have received a DUI last week and no one is the wiser.
Since background check requirements and safety records vary, it’s hard to determinate whether one form is safer than another. Uber and Lyft offer the option to see how your driver has been rated. You can also share your ride in progress with another person. Taxis do not offer these options.
When I get in an Uber or Lyft alone, I send my trip progress to my husband. That way, if he sees the driver has veered off course and isn’t going to the airport, it’s probably a good time for a check in.
Related Post: How to Save Money on a Rental Car
Ride Sharing and Car Seats – How Does that work?
In general, neither taxis or ride shares provide car seats. Uber offers a car seat option called Uber Car Seat, on some larger (UberX) vehicles and only in a “select cities.” Uber Car Seat vehicles carry one inspected, current car seat and add a surcharge to the ride fee for using the car seat. The operator is trained on how to install it.
Lyft offers something called Car Seat Mode that works much the same way as Uber Car Seat, but, as of mid-2019, it was available only in New York City.
If you’re requesting a taxi and want a car seat, request it when you book the taxi. In general, a taxi driver probably isn’t going to be carrying a car seat. Even if your taxi driver is carrying a car seat, you have little guarantee as to when the seat was purchased or how well it’s been maintained.
TravelingMom Tip: Know the car seat/booster seat laws where you’re traveling. Know your comfort zone, too. And read these tips for safely installing a car seat without a base.
Installing a Car Seat in a Ride Share
Taxis and ride share services will allow you to install you own car seat. However, lugging a car seat around town isn’t most people’s idea of a good time. If you are catching your ride share from an airport and have checked or carried on your child’s car seat, getting to and from the airport to the hotel is probably no big deal. If you need to use ride share to get around during your trip, what are you going to do with your car seat? That’s the big dilemma.
If you’re traveling with a baby or toddler, there are bucket style car seats that snap into a stroller that may work while traveling. If you are traveling with an infant, you’re used to toting around lots of baby gear so this may be no big deal.
When your kids are older or sit in a booster style seat, the Mifold portable seat might be an option when traveling. Mifold offers several options. We have the Portable Grab and Go Booster which is easily stowed in a bag or backpack. My kids found it supremely uncomfortable but for short trips, it will do the trick. The inflatable Bubble Bum booster seat is another good option.
You always have the option of just getting in the ride share with your kids, sans car seats. I’m not advocating for this but I know people do it. Laws on how big or old a child should be to legally not ride in a safety seat vary from location to location. Your driver reserves the right to refuse to transport your child if you don’t have safety equipment, so plan for that.
My personal experience: I have one child who is right on the cusp of not being required to use a booster seat in our state. We’ve taken him in ride shares in other states without a booster seat and no one has said anything.
Enough Room for the Whole Crew? Maybe
Aside from safety, space is a concern when you’re ride sharing as a family, especially when you Uber with kids. If you’re catching your ride share at the airport, you’re going to have lots of stuff with you. Children and packing light don’t always go together.
TravelingMom Tip: If you plan to use ride sharing for an airport pickup, spend some time on the app to see what type and size vehicles are available. Know your needs.
We usually opt for UberX, Uber XL or Lyft Plus when ridesharing as a family of four. We typically do not travel with booster seats and we’re pretty light packers. My family can usually squeeze it all into a standard Uber or Lyft, but if it’s more than a short drive, we splurge for the larger vehicle. UberXL and Lyft Plus are usually larger SUVs or minivans like the ones families typically use at home. They are a little more expensive but I think they’re worth it. I’ve found UberX and Lyft Plus to be available in most areas.
If your Uber with kids experience means traveling with more than six people or you have a ton of stuff, consider splitting up into two ride shares.
Disney Minnie Vans
Disney Minnie Vans, which are operated by Lyft, were my kids’ first foray into ride sharing. You can use regular Lyft or Uber with kids on the Walt Disney World Resort property. The advantage to using a Minnie Van (other than it being super stinking cute) is that it can take you places a regular ride share can’t go. It has the same access as the Disney buses and can drop you closer to the gates of the parks than a ride share can.
If you use a regular Uber or Lyft, you’ll be dropped of at a designated point and you will have to walk. It isn’t that big of a deal to me and it saves money because, of course, you pay for that Minnie Van cuteness and convenience.
A Disney Minnie Van is a flat rate of $25 per journey. On average, a trip from a resort to a park using regular Lyft or Uber is less than $10. Disney Minnie Vans are Chevy Traverses operated by Disney Cast Members. They do carry car seats and the drivers are trained to install them.
Another advantage to using the Minnie Van ride share is that you’ll be driven by someone who is a Disney expert, increasing the chances you’ll get where you want to go. My family used regular Lyft to get from Disney’s Wilderness Lodge to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort for a character breakfast. The driver took us to the Transportation Center because “that’s what the app told her to do” and we had to run to make our reservation. Not fun.
The Minnie Van is a splurge, but it does ease some safety concerns parents have. It’s also a much better option at the end of the night than waiting in those loooooong bus lines.
You can only summon a Minnie Van when you are physically on the Disney property. It should show up when you log into Lyft. If not, ask a Disney Cast Member for help. For more on the Minnie Van, read here.
Surge pricing – It exists
If you are traveling at peak times, you’ll pay more. Peak times are determined by the ride share company. Surge pricing lessens the wait time for customers because the higher rates get more drivers on the road during peak travel times.
Surge pricing is pretty transparent. When you open the app, you will be notified you’re in a surge period and what the multiplier is, i.e. 3.5X the normal rate. Surge pricing is designed to increase the chances you will find a driver without a long wait. No one likes to wait, but waiting on a street or at the airport with cranky kids is no one’s idea of a good time.
Airport Pickup Spots – Know Before You Go
Families are most likely to use ride sharing for airport pickups and drop offs. While ride sharing services can typically drop you off at the same place a taxi or a friend would drop you off, many airports have designated places where ride shares can pick up passengers.
Look for signs directing you to ride share pickups. If you don’t see signs, ask someone for directions. Ride shares usually won’t be able to pick you up where taxi cabs pick up or where friends and family pick you up. Your mileage (see what I did there) will vary from place to place.
Most airport plans favor taxis, so you may have to walk a few more steps to meet your ride share. I recommend getting a feel for where your driver will pick you up before you summon a ride share. Most ride shares are only required to wait a short time. If you are not there, they can leave and charge you. If you have to go down two levels and cross the street to catch your ride share, you’ll want to make sure you know where you are going and can get there quickly before summoning a ride.
Finally, check to make sure an airport allows ride sharing before you plan to use that as your mode of transportation. Most airports in the U.S. do now, but for a time, the Orlando airport did not allow ride sharing. You don’t want to find out you need plan B when you’re standing on a curb with four suitcases and two cranky kids.
What’s the bottom line?
Can you Uber with kids? Yes. Is it easy? Well…nothing with kids is really that easy, now is it? If you’re comfortable getting into a taxi with a driver you’ve never met, you’re probably comfortable using a ride share service.
It’s a reliable, easy way to get where you need to be just about anywhere in the world. The apps will adapt to wherever you are. No need to search for “How to call a taxi in Chicago.” The app will know where you are and adjust. Super easy.