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How to get around LA with a kid -- but no car

The kid-friendly ride-hail service HopSkipDrive has 500 care drivers shuttling children in LA, OC and the Bay Area.
The kid-friendly ride-hail service HopSkipDrive has 500 care drivers shuttling children in LA, OC and the Bay Area.

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The last thing I hear before going to sleep is my 13-year-old begging me to use our car again.

And then there’s what I hear each morning, which is more begging — to end my de-carification experiment, or at least cheat and take him to school in our car.

Suffice to say, my kid prefers automotive experiments when they involve a brand new Ferrari.

As the child of a motor critic, born and raised in L.A., he’s grown up with all kinds of vehicles to get him around, so weaning him off has been the biggest challenge of my car-free October. The fact that he’s on crutches is a complicating factor that eliminates public transit as an option to get back and forth to school.

Too much hobbling.

But I have enough experience with public transit now to know it would take three times as long as driving.

That's why I eased him into our personal-car-free life with somebody else’s car for the eight-mile trip back from school. We took a Lyft, which cost $11 and needed me along for the ride.

And that’s the rub that stops most L.A. parents from being able to go car free. The alternatives are cost prohibitive, time consuming, unsafe or all three.

"We started HopSkipDrive really to solve our own problem," said Janelle McGlothlin, co-founder of the L.A.-based, kid-only ride hail service, HopSkipDrive. "As busy parents, my two co-founders and myself have eight children between us. They go to five schools and they have a multitude of activities.

"We were struggling with how do we get them there both as working parents but also when two kids are going in opposite directions, so we really created HopSkipDrive to solve our problem and at the same time solve the problems of parents universally."

The ride hail service with 500 so-called care drivers launched in L.A. last year, but I’d never had occasion to use it until this month, when I downloaded the app and booked my son’s maiden journey to school on his own. And just like that, I saved myself a 45-minute round trip on the road.

For a price. HopSkipDrive pricing starts at $16 per ride. To get my son to his school cost $27. Taking my car would have cost $2.50. So, while HopSkipDrive solved one of my problems, it’s a little too rich for a public radio salary.

And then there was the bigger problem. My son didn’t like being “alone in a car with some random stranger," he told me.

No. My son wanted me to take him. So I have been. In Ubers and Lyfts. Leave it to a teenager to point out the idiocy of taking a ride hail when we have a car in good working order parked in the driveway.

He’s completely right, of course. There’s no better way to drain a bank account than taking Ubers and Lyfts everywhere you need to go in sprawling LA, especially when I have to be with him for the ride. Neither Lyft nor Uber officially allow solo passengers under the age of 18.

But rules were made to be broken, right?

"I’ve taken kids as young as 13 years old if they’re going to school," Uber driver Renardo Page told me the day my son and I drove to school in his Chrysler Sebring.

We weren't the first.

"I’ve taken two young people to school this morning," Page said. "Usually in the morning, it could work out to be maybe five students per day."

Those students could be taking the bus, actually, including my own son. He attends a magnet in L.A. Unified, which makes him eligible for transportation services under the district’s integration program.

Daily, LAUSD runs approximately 1,700 bus routes. That sounds like a lot, but they serve only seven percent of the 560,000 students who attend LAUSD.

Clearly I’m not the only parent who finds it a Sisyphean task just to wake up my teenager. The prospect of rousing him a half hour earlier to get him to the bus has never appealed, especially since I have to drive him to the bus stop 10 minutes away.

I’m too late to sign him up for the bus for this school year anyway. With few exceptions, parents need to sign up their kids for the bus the year prior.

Had I known, I’d be saving tons of money in daily ride hails while helping to combat L.A.’s growing traffic problem.

"For every school bus that we have out there, it would equate to 30 fewer vehicles that would be on the road," said Donald Wilkes, L.A. Unified’s director of transportation services.

Next year my car will be one of those fewer vehicles on school days.

It only makes sense. To live car free without too many sacrifices, I’m learning, is to pick the low-hanging fruit. When the better option is there, I should use it.