Solutions for after-school transportation problems

Dealing with the challenges of transporting kids to activities after school can be a logistical nightmare for parents.

Maybe this sounds familiar. The twins are due at soccer practice at 6 p.m. Your daughter has karate at the exact same time across town and, most weeks, it’s your spouse’s late night at work.

Even in an age when telecommuting options and flex schedules are more common, it can be tricky to juggle multiple kids and multiple activities. But several companies are offering alternatives to the old standby “Mom taxi.”

parent taxi WThanks to companies set up to transport kids, after-school programs that provide transportation, taxi services willing to do the job and new technology that makes carpooling easier, there is some relief for harried parents.

Plan for a professional driving service

Some after-school programs, such as Ivey League Mixed Martial Arts in Arnold, offer transportation from schools to their site. Some shuttle services, such as Kangaroo Coach, have routes from Anne Arundel County to Baltimore-area private schools. And other companies are willing to take young passengers to various destinations, such as sports practice or a relative’s house.

A New Life in Bowie is a hybrid — an after-school program that started an add-on service to drive children to various other destinations.

When Rev. Shawn McBride started the business five years ago, he found parents requesting transportation options. After the program offered to pick up students at school, parents began asking, "Hey, instead of taking Little Johnny home, could you take him to karate or over to the rec center?" McBride explains.

Now transportation is a significant part of the business, which deploys a combination of buses, passenger vans, minivans and cars to transport 300 children from 70 schools in the Washington, D.C/Maryland/Virginia area.

"We've really grown," McBride says. "It's a great program for families. ... Our drivers are drug-free, drama-free and absolutely love kids."

The cost for transport services ranges from $50 to $125 per week, depending on distance and whether families need round-trip or one-way service.

A similar service, A&K Family Learning Place in Bowie, offers after care, shuttle service from schools to designated “hubs,” and door-to-door transportation from schools to homes. Prices for transportation range from $200 to $400 per month.

“There is such a great need for this service,” says Kimberlyn Waterman, president of A&K.

Hire a driving service

When time and trust are important, it's nice to have options. But transportation services just for children can be pricey.

Hiring trustworthy drivers, running background checks and having the proper insurance is an expensive proposition, says Mark Thistel, owner of Freedom Car, a Baltimore-based transportation service. His business, now in its 25th year, is one of the earliest companies to cater to children.

Because of the expense, he says, “This is probably going to be your plan B.”
Freedom Car is typically $40 per trip, according to the website.

Some families turn to Uber, which has ride-tracking options and a “Family Profile” joint payment plan — and can be cheaper than Freedom Car. But company spokesman Colin Tooze says it’s officially against the rules for children younger than 18 to use the service without supervision.

Yet another option is a local taxi company willing to drive children, such as Smart Ride Transportation in Prince Frederick. The cost for a taxi is based on mileage and can average $18 for up to 10 miles, though morning and mid-afternoon availability is limited.

Click next below to learn about new carpool technology.

Arrange a carpool

Often, carpooling is the first choice for families with kids going in multiple directions or whose parents are working.

Websites such as SignUpGenius, a group organization service, have options to allow parents to create carpools. It doesn’t help you find people, but it does allow multiple people to sign up for slots.

The service was a huge timesaver for Shelli Stanley, a mother of two from Gambrills, when her 14-year-old son joined the high school marching band last summer. In addition to after-school practices, his commitment included a two-week summer camp that required transportation to and from school twice a day. But sharing the job with three other moms was a huge help.

The website "made it super easy," Stanley says, and it was much better than having a ton of group emails. Once signed up, drivers can sync the schedule with their existing digital calendars and create reminders.

Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville recently contracted with CarpooltoSchool to arrange carpools for students since the school doesn't offer bus service.

The service handles the logistics of figuring out which families live closest together and matching their schedules. Like SignUpGenius, there are options for parents to sync the carpool schedule into their digital calendars, create text reminders and add after-school destinations such as team sports.

"Parents find all the families nearby that they might not have any idea were so close," says Kimberly Moore, CEO of CarpooltoSchool. "All the guesswork goes away. ... It helps build community around a real problem."

Tips for finding transportation for your child

Before you wave down a cab for your kid, or let lack of transportation force your children to stay home, consider these tips from Maryland Public Service Commission, and Mark Thistel, owner of Freedom Car.

  • Check the credentials of the company. Do they complete background checks on drivers? Is the company in good standing with the Better Business Bureau?
  • Be explicit about the rate, point of departure and destination. If the company doesn’t offer a tracking system, find out what route will be used.
  • Get the particulars if you're hiring a driver or service. Ask if the cars will be marked, whether drivers wear uniforms, what kind of music will be playing and if drivers have experience with kids.
  • Be sure to network. See if other parents with kids on the swim team or in the after-school art class are willing to carpool.
  • Inform the school and after-school program about transportation arrangements.
  • Make sure a parent isn't required to be present at the sport or after-school activity.

By Laura Barnhardt Cech