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HopSkipDrive Claims a Ride-Hailing First: Fingerprint Background Checks

Fingerprint checks are the gold standard, but make it harder to scale.


HopSkipDrive, a Los Angeles startup you’ve probably never heard of, just made a small piece of ride-hailing history. It says it’s the first such company to do fingerprint background checks of its drivers. At least we know that other big players — Sidecar, Uber, Lyft and Shuddle — do not.

Fingerprint checks are the gold standard. Taxi companies in most urban areas in California are required by law to use them, as are organizations that work with vulnerable populations, like hospitals and schools.

Since Uber and Lyft are regulated by a different entity — the California Public Utilities Commission — they’re not held to the same standard. Occasionally, drivers on these services turn out to have assault records or reckless driving infractions that the companies didn’t catch.

The co-founders of HopSkipDrive didn’t want to take that chance because their service works with a vulnerable population: Children. Parents schedule pick-up and drop-off rides a day in advance so that drivers from the company can ferry their children to and from school, home and extracurricular activities.

“We created what we would need to feel that this is okay for our kids,” CEO Joanna McFarland said. For parents who may be wondering, HopSkipDrive is unrelated to to the popular children’s product line Skip Hop.

McFarland and her two co-founders have various backgrounds in business operations, law and marketing. But none of them has founded a startup before or studied computer science. They’ve chosen a challenging operational and technical problem for their first go.

Only people with five years of caregiving experiences, such as nannies or parents, are allowed to drive. They undergo reference checks, and their driving is monitored by an app that uses the phone’s accelerometer and GPS to track whether they’re speeding or texting while driving.

HopSkipDrive has a similar model to Shuddle, another kid-ferrying service started by Sidecar co-founder Nick Allen.

But Shuddle isn’t doing fingerprint background checks. Like other ride-hailing companies, it’s relying on third-party agencies to run background checks using Social Security numbers. Allen has told Re/code, “[Live scans] are something we’re looking into, but I’m also very confident in the process and procedures we have.” In addition to identity verification checks, it has full-time customer support personnel that monitor every ride in real time from Shuddle HQ.

It’s cheaper, easier and faster for a ride-hailing company to grow with agency background checks than fingerprints because they don’t require an in-person application. As a result, it’s unlikely that other venture-backed companies such as Lyft and Uber will be changing their strategy any time soon.

But HopSkipDrive has only raised a small seed round of undisclosed size, so it’s not beholden to big investors yet. McFarland believes they can grow more slowly and still survive.

“It is a different value proposition for the drivers and the parents,” McFarland said. “This is not a race to the bottom with price.”

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