Uber, Lyft and Similar On-Demand Transportation Services: What Schools Should Know

In recent years, the popularity and usage of on-demand transportation services such as Uber and Lyft has exploded. With more and more people depending on these app-based services to get around, it’s not surprising that students are also using them to get to and from school or school-related activities.

While these services certainly provide a convenience—especially for busy schedules during the school year—there is a lot of potential risk involved that school leaders should consider.

First, Uber and Lyft technically prohibit drivers from picking up unaccompanied minors. However, regardless of these regulations, some drivers still turn a blind eye and transport minors regularly—likely to avoid potential bad reviews and lost fares. Unfortunately, these situations open up a slew of potential exposures that could have disastrous ramifications.

There are more acceptable alternatives to these services such as Zum and HopSkipDrive who cater specifically to shuttling minors to their destinations. Their drivers typically have career experience working with children, such as professional nannies, nurses and teachers and who have been properly vetted through background checks and fingerprinting. However, as in any environment involving children there is always the possibility that a predator will go undetected through the normal vetting process and pose a threat to the unaccompanied minor.

With this in mind, the first step a school should take is to communicate their stance on the usage and contracting of such services among the campus community—staff, faculty, students and parents. This means school leaders should have the necessary conversations internally, address any questions or concerns regarding the usage of these services, and raise the issue to legal counsel when necessary.

After careful consideration, some schools have chosen to flat-out restrict the usage of these types of transportation services. Others have decided to allow some of them on campus, such as those that are geared toward minors, but prohibit those that are not; and yet others have also chosen to impose an age restriction on the student utilizing these services.

In addition, many schools are including specific language within their enrollment contract and handbook that acknowledges that on-demand transportation services may be used, however, the responsibility falls exclusively on the parents or legal guardians of students who use them.

Due to the ever-evolving nature of these services, there’s no one right way to proactively address all the associated risks and exposures. Therefore, each school will need to address this exposure based on their culture and mission. However, we encourage schools that decide to allow some form of on-demand transportation service on campus to establish written policies and procedures that are clearly communicated to the entire community, including:

  • Signed permission from the parents to allow the children to be picked up by on-demand transportation services, such as placing an on-demand transportation/rideshare option on the transportation permission forms that the school is using
  • Clarify that the school is not a party to the contract for the service’s use, but rather between the parent and the service vendor
  • Clearly state that it is the parent’s responsibility to review the vendor’s Terms of Use regarding minors
  • Clearly state that the school is not responsible in determining the safety of the driver or the car
  • Educate the parents that they may have choices in what services they use, recognizing that some services are geared toward use by minors while others are not
  • Affirm that the school does not accept any responsibility or liability for any risks arising out of the parent’s use of these types of services

Schools are also encouraged to use caution when drafting these policies and procedures, as too much detail can make it more difficult to consistently comply and allows more room for errors to occur in their application.

Lastly, recognizing that some schools may choose to decline the usage of these services in its policies, it’s important to communicate the why behind that reasoning as well.

Ultimately, the safety and security of your students, faculty and staff is paramount, however, there is a limit as to how far a school can get involved, especially in regards to third-party service vendor, without risk to additional liability exposure.

If you have any questions as it pertains to on-demand transportation services and your school, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

About Cheryl McDowell

Cheryl has over 30 years of experience in the areas of insurance and risk management. With Bolton’s Education Practice Group, she works with education clients to review and improve their existing risk management and insurance programs, including coordination of forensic audits of the school’s existing risk management and insurance programs.

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