The last few years have seen a number of innovative developments in the field of flexible childcare as more and more families have both parents working.
A big issue for working parents is getting their children, particularly if they have more than one, to extra-curricular activities or clubs.
One of the latest developments addresses that challenge. It’s an app called OneLane, a family ride-and-care service, which helps escort children to and from before and after school clubs and activities, including those at weekends and during the holidays.
Currently the app is available in central London only [zones one to three] where it launched in March, but its developers have plans to spread to cities throughout the UK and maybe even abroad.
The app, which is available on iTunes, matches families with guardians who have been strictly vetted and was set up by Camron, Moradi, a former member of the top management team at Just Eat. He is the go to back-up person if his nephews and nieces need to be dropped off anywhere. “He saw the pain points modern parents have in urban places with transporting their children,” says Jina Kwon, OneLane’s head of business development.
The challenge parents face has also been noted in the US where similar services are being developed, but where the driver is the venture capitalist culture, meaning the emphasis is on rapid expansion. Jina says OneLane is trying to distinguish itself by building slowly and sustainably, focusing on customer feedback and developing a quality product. As such it is building local partnerships. One partner is, for instance, the group Greenwich Mums. Another is a language academy and OneLane are hoping to partner with tutor centres in the future.
A big issue from the feedback is safety and reliability. Jina says that the app attempts to match the same driver with the same family so there is continuity and parents have peace of mind that their child will know the driver. “Children like to have the same person. They like routine,” says Jina, who is herself a mum. They are also encouraged to meet their children’s driver beforehand and are welcome to be sit in on a ride so they can pass on tips about things like parking to drivers.
Guardians have an enhanced DBS check and OneLane also does background identity checks and checks they have no points on their licence as well as doing face to face interviews. They must also have some childcare experience. Many are drawn from childcare work, nursing or teaching. All are female after focus groups showed that was what parents wanted. The drivers are independent contractors. Some have day jobs and a few have built up enough regular work that OneLane has become their main job.
The app also uses tracking software so can, for example, check on the speed drivers are driving at and it enables the head office to be in touch with drivers for training purposes. In addition, parents can get live updates on the ride, for instance, the app will show if their child has been picked up.
The majority of rides so far have been school runs. Some parents who use it have an infant at home and another child at school and can’t always make it to the school run. Others have children at two different schools or children who do two different sets of after-school activities. Guardians can drop off at activities and wait with the child and escort them home.
Since March, around 100 parents who have signed up use the app intermittently and 50 use it daily or weekly. Currently, OneLane is running a special campaign which means all rides regardless of time or distance are £9. Ride and care is £7 per 30 minute block. After the campaign fare they anticipate a typical 20-minute journey will cost £11-13. However, these fares will come down in price once they roll out carpooling in September.
Jina says the most difficult challenge is getting parents to try the app. “It’s the first of its kind in Europe. It’s a bit strange for parents to hand over pick-ups to a stranger. Our challenge is to make sure that transition is as pain free as possible and that they are comfortable with doing so,” she adds.
Once they have tried it, she says, they usually love it. “Once they have used the service they tend to book up for a long period of time,” says Jina. Comments include “you have changed my life”.
She advises that parents are more likely to get the same driver if they book in advance. The business is focusing both on building the number of guardians it uses and on getting the word out to parents so there is no mismatch between supply and demand.