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Looking for a ride to soccer practice? California teens can now use their own Uber accounts

Close-up of vertical sign with logos for ridesharing companies Uber
Sign with logos for ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft in downtown Los Angeles.
(Smith Collection/Gado / Getty Images)
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Forget a bike or the city bus, California teens can now grab a solo Uber ride to their desired destination with a new product launched by the company statewide Thursday.

The company’s teen rides program allows children aged 13 to 17 to operate their own Uber accounts — hail their own transportation and order food — after parents add them to a family profile. Parents get a notification each time their teen orders a ride or a meal and adults can put limits on spending for each service through the app.

Uber has prohibited minors to ride without an adult for years, but many teens have attempted to create their own accounts anyway. Drivers are allowed to ask for an ID to verify age and are told to turn down the fare if the person is an unaccompanied minor requesting a ride through the traditional Uber app. Lyft, the company’s main rival, doesn’t allow minors to ride without an adult.

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The goal of the teen program, Uber executives say, is to make parents’ and their kids’ lives easier. Teenagers’ schedules seem more packed than ever and the stress of ferrying teens to multiple activities during the day can be a challenge for working parents, said Sachin Kansal, the vice president of product management at Uber.

“Transportation for their teens ends up being one of the biggest stress points in their lives,” Kansal said. “I have a 14-year-old and every Saturday my wife and I have to sit down and plan out our transportation schedule — who will pick up, who will drop off. It’s a huge logistical challenge.”

Uber Technologies is expanding its rider base with a new service that lets teenagers hail a trip and ride alone.

May 17, 2023

The San Francisco-based company began piloting teen accounts in 2022 in Canada and, months later, expanded testing in several U.S. cities. With the addition of California this week, Uber teen accounts are available in more than 250 cities across all 50 states, according to the company.

The teen rides will come with extra safety measures including live-trip tracking so parents can watch their teen’s ride on a map. Parents will receive the driver’s name, vehicle information, phone number and the requested drop-off location at the start of each trip, according to Uber.

Teens will be required to give the driver a PIN — generated each time they request a ride — and drivers will not be able to start the trip until they have the correct PIN. This ensures the teen is in the correct vehicle, Kansal said.

The company will use sensors and GPS data to detect if a ride veers from the normal course or ends too early. If that occurs, the app will message the teen, their parent and the driver to check in. The app also records audio of each trip using the teen’s phone. The audio file, which is encrypted, is stored on the app and accessible only if a user files an incident report with the company, according to Uber.

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Sergio Avedian, who has been driving for Uber for eight years in Los Angeles, received a notification on his app Thursday morning that he’s eligible to accept ride requests from teens. But he’s not planning to participate, he said.

Avedian, who is a senior contributor at the gig workers’ resource the Rideshare Guy, said while it’s smart for Uber to lock in future customers while they’re still teens, he’s concerned about how the change will affect drivers. The app doesn’t have a curfew, so a teen could take a trip in the middle of the night without parental consent. This could be fixed, he said, by requiring that parents send a text or push a button on the app to approve rides and food delivery.

When Uber was testing the teen accounts, Kansal said the company heard from parents that they specifically didn’t want to have to approve their child’s rides or food orders, other than being able to control the amount they spend.

Avedian also has concerns about whether drivers will be penalized for picking up other teens, possibly without teen accounts, if the child who requested the ride decides to bring friends. Drivers will be required to make sure those guests have permission from a parent or guardian to ride in an Uber, he said.

“It creates a dilemma for me,” he said. “Every time a driver has to make a judgment call like that, parents will complain to Uber and I may get deactivated because of it. Uber has done good things as far as safety and security, but there’s also a bunch of holes in the product.”

Uber has raised the minimum age requirement for most new drivers in California to 25, citing the rising costs of commercial auto insurance in the state.

Aug. 24, 2023

Uber said only highly rated and experienced drivers will be able to accept teen rides. All drivers on the platform are required to pass an annual background check that includes driving records and a criminal history. The company, along with other rideshare apps, has faced scrutiny over customer safety.

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Uber does not use fingerprint-based background checks, which are generally considered the highest standard for employee screenings because they can identify applicants who use an alias or attempt to lie about their records. Those enhanced background checks are not required in California for rideshare companies. HopSkipDrive, a transportation service that parents use to book solo rides for their kids as young as 6, conducts a higher level background check on its drivers, including fingerprinting, according to its website.

Kansal said he feels safe allowing his own daughter to use the Uber teen service.

“In the back of my mind as we were building this project was the fact that... I’m going to be putting my own teen in the car and how would I feel as a parent about the safety,” Kansal said. “I feel very good about the product.”

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