In May, options for traveling safely with kids in New York City improved dramatically. Uber, a tech company that creates mobile apps to connect passengers with drivers of for-hire vehicles, added a new option, uberFAMILY. For an upcharge of $10 per ride, customers selecting uberFAMILY from the Uber app will be sent a car that has a forward-facing CR with a five-point harness preinstalled by a trained driver. The service is offered for children over age 1 (and at least 22 pounds/31 inches) and up to 48 pounds or 52 inches. (Children smaller and larger than that are urged to use the appropriate RF-only CR or booster, respectively.)
Persistence Pays Off
In some respects, this development can be seen as evolving from efforts made over three years ago by the organization The Car Seat Lady. At that time, the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission was evaluating the replacement of its entire taxi fleet (see SRN, May/June 2011). Pediatrician Alisa Baer of The Car Seat Lady, a New Yorker who has been keenly aware of the challenges faced by urban families travelling with kids, seized the opportunity to lobby for built-in CRs in those new cabs. In that effort, she reached out to IMMI, a major manufacturer of built-in school bus seating. Although that effort didn’t bear fruit, the two organizations were undeterred. They resumed their collaboration when Dr. Baer eventually made the connection with up-and-comer Uber.
For uberFAMILY, built-in CRs were not an option, as the CR needed to be added to existing vehicles. Fortuitously, IMMI had recently reacquired the rights from Dorel for the Go, an add-on CR IMMI developed several years ago. The Go has many features that are ideal for this application: It’s small and lightweight, easy to install and adjust between children of different sizes, and relatively easy to keep clean.
Formula for Success
Uber has done many things to make sure this program will be a success. For one thing, Dr. Baer has trained Uber’s partner drivers to install the CR (and secure the child, though this part will be done by the caregiver in most cases). Installation is done only with the LATCH system, which keeps things simple and should help ensure that ordering a car with a CR won’t noticeably delay the time it takes to get an on-demand vehicle. Drivers are responsible for keeping the CRs just as clean as the rest of the vehicle. Dr. Baer also created a series of videos for uberFAMILY, not only for driver education, but also to teach caregivers how to use the harness properly (by pulling a strap at each hip).
This program got a major boost from Care.com, an international company that connects families with caregivers, which paid for Uber’s first several hundred Go CRs. Though the program is new, Uber states that expansion is already likely. The Car Seat Lady will continue to work on that rollout as Uber’s child car safety consultant. (Update, July 2018: The Car Seat Lady is no longer working with uberFamily but this program continues.)