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Kango, HopSkipDrive Try to Make Ride-Hail Work for Kids

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It’s a few minutes shy of six on a Friday, and Gabriel strolls into the misty San Francisco evening. Seeing his ride, he walks past his ninth-grade classmates loitering around their prep school’s entrance, waiting for a parent or babysitter to shuttle them home. He approaches the van parked at the curb with the bright pink kangaroo pasted on its side, slides open the door, and jumps into the back seat.

As Gabriel buckles in, Ariana Garcia begins her last ride of the day. The 14-year-old is an easy charge compared to the younger kids she must sign out of school or strap into a booster seat. Whatever happens, it’s her responsibility. “I always make sure the kids are in their location, in the school or in the house, before I take off,” she says. After five miles of zipping through the city, they arrive at Gabriel’s front door, where his mother, Sara Schaer, waits outside.

The driver needs to be a “surrogate parent,” Schaer says. Her view matters here: The little pink kangaroo is the emblem for her company Kango, which launched three years ago.

Kango is just one of the startups vying to be “Uber for Kids,” building an optimized, app-based twist on the neighborhood carpool by contracting part-time drivers who transport the youths in their personal cars. To succeed, these companies must not only overcome the struggles faced by powerhouses like Uber and Lyft, but also ace the more difficult test of taking solo minors along for the ride.

The market is definitely there. Kids need to get around, even if their parents are at work or otherwise occupied. Data from a teen debit card company shows that 84 percent of spending on taxis by 13 to 23 year-olds goes to ride-hailing, though unaccompanied minors aren’t supposed to be using most of these services, including Uber and Lyft. But some drivers—either out of ignorance or fear of a punitive rating—don’t verify their passengers are 18. While some parents have complained that Uber drivers are willing to drive their underage kids around, others happily plug their credit card info into their kids’ accounts.

(An Uber spokesperson says the company encourages drivers to request identification from passengers who “look young” and to report underage riders to its customer support services, and that refusing or cancelling these trips will not impact a driver’s rating or account. Similarly, Lyft says those concerned about unaccompanied minors in the car should contact its critical response line, and that drivers will not be penalized for refusing or canceling a ride.)

“Parents do it, frankly, out of desperation,” says Joanna McFarland, one of the three cofounders (all of them parents) of HopSkipDrive, another ride-share service hoping to monopolize the ever-busier afternoon scramble. “I was a latchkey kid, and I managed most of these things on my own. But we don’t live that way anymore.”

So for parents who want to stick to the terms-and-services agreement—and better protect their progeny—these apps offer a compelling alternative: rigorously vetted drivers who can babysit as well as drive.

Before Kari Samayoa, a HopSkipDrive “CareDriver,” started work, she needed five years of childcare experience (she’s a mother of three), a car no more than 10 years old, and a vehicle inspection. For pickups, she usually meets the teacher (or dance instructor, or Spanish tutor, or Quidditch coach) to find her passenger. Children often don’t have their own phones, so they, along with their parents, agree on a code word. Once the parent enters that word into the app, it’s shared with the assigned driver, allowing the child to confirm that the right person is picking them up. Every week, Samayoa also receives a driving “success card,” The company works with Zendrive, a service that uses phone location data to track speeding, braking, and whether a driver is texting at the wheel.

For these services, drivers are almost universally female—mothers, teachers, babysitters, empty-nesters looking for part-time income. As a woman, Samayoa says she feels safer doing this than when she drives for Lyft. “I’m a mom. The kids see me as that,” she says.

Potential rivals for Kango and HopSkipDrive include Silicon Valley–based Zum, which says it has transported more than 500,000 children since its 2014 founding. GoKart runs a smaller service in North Carolina. They also compete with kid-focused carpool apps that don’t use contracted drivers, like Pogo in Seattle.

But mixing minors into the rideshare model—a business that’s already expensive to build—is a difficult feat. These companies must adhere to privacy laws regulating data collected from minors. California law requires their drivers register their fingerprints with TrustLine, a state database of nannies and babysitters who have cleared criminal background checks. Their services are generally more expensive than those offered by Uber and Lyft, and are typically used for pre-scheduled rides, rather than on-demand service.

Those difficulties take their toll. Shuddle, one of the first minor-adapted rideshare startups, shut down in April 2016, after two years of operation. Critics said the company spent the $12 million it raised too quickly, and was slow in requiring its drivers register with TrustLine. When it shuttered, many of its drivers turned to HopSkipDrive, which acquired Shuddle’s assets. Sheprd, another kid-focused ride-hail service operating in Newton, Massachusetts, shut down in late October after announcing that it, too, was struggling with permit issues and had run out of money. Uber piloted a teen service between March and August last year in Seattle, Phoenix and Columbus, but has no service currently available for unaccompanied minors.

While parents’ have been the startups’ main customers, some schools are catching on. Zum has created a shared platform that allows teachers and parents to track traveling students. “It started with knowing about this gap. My children were going to school, and I wanted more parents to use Zum, and I realized that the schools themselves had a big pain point,” says Ritu Narayan, the company’s founder and CEO. Zum has already partnered with about 2,000 schools in over 125 districts, 15 percent of which use the service as their only mode of transportation for students. “We are complementing school buses,” Narayan says.

HopSkipDrive assists schools with field trips, transports students who need individualized care, and drives kids living with out-of-district foster families to their schools. “If you have a school bus, and there are only ten kids on that bus, that becomes a much more expensive bus. And we can be a much more cost-effective option,” McFarland says.

The challenges of making these services work aren’t going away anytime soon, and the companies that have foundered make clear that this is no easy trip. But if Kango, HopSkipDrive, and their competitors can make it work, well, the ride of the future might not look so different from mom and dad’s embarrassingly-suburban minivan.


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DA national leaders deploy members to monitor troubled Tshwane caucus, council

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The DA’s leadership has moved to stabilise its fractured caucus in the City of Tshwane, effectively placing Mayor Stevens Mokgalapa’s municipality under party administration.

This is according to party insiders. News24 spoke to at least four well-placed sources at both national and local government level in the DA, with some saying there was no other way to fix the mess that’s been created in the capital city, but for national leaders to step in.

Over the weekend, DA leader Mmusi Maimane admitted, when asked by News24 about the state of the City’s leadership, that decisions had been taken to get more “involved” in both the work of the municipality and the party’s caucus.

“I made no apologies about the fact that we are going to take a strong stance there. We have to,” said Maimane.

While he highlighted the challenges the DA government inherited when it took over control of the City from the ANC, which had registered a disappointing showing at the polls following its own internal squabbles, Maimane said there was a need to turn the City around and make sure it delivered services to the people of Tshwane.

“So certainly, it’s a capital city and we are working hard, and I pride myself that, as the DA, we are going to turn that municipality around and do the work that needs to be done,” he said.

The DA-run municipality has been plagued by its own troubles, chiefly the GladAfrica tender scandal and the handling of city manager Moeketsi Mosola’s battle with the council.

James Selfe, who is currently moving into a new role dealing with local governments, flew to Gauteng from Cape Town earlier this month to discuss how the municipality could resolve a dispute with striking workers over the implementation of wage increases.

READ: DA ‘not at all happy’ about payment agreement with Tshwane striking municipal workers – report

When former mayor Solly Msimanga stepped down earlier this year it was expected that his successor Mokgalapa would stabilise the region and resolve the impasse with Mosola.

Insiders have told News24 that the situation has worsened, with Mokgalapa merely rewarding those who were unhappy during Msimanga’s tenure.

“Now the Soshanguve people get to eat, they get the opportunities… that’s who Stevens cares about. We thought he was capable, but he really has been a let down,” said one Tshwane insider.

‘It is really difficult right now’

While Maimane and several others refuse to outright say the party had placed the Tshwane caucus under administration, one source said the national leadership was literally “breathing down their necks” and not allowing any decision to be taken without it being scrutinised and approved.

“They want to know of every step, have a say in every decision. It is really difficult right now, but I believe in the end it will be for the best,” another Tshwane source told News24.

The leader of the ANC caucus, Kgosi Maepa, has complained about the involvement of Selfe and federal chairperson Athol Trollip in Tshwane.

He told journalists that the two had come to the capital city to give instructions. Maepa claimed the DA was not happy with Mokgalapa, whom he’s dubbed “gimmicks” over growing divisions between so-called “white” and “black” caucuses.

The mayor has been accused of advancing the interests of the black caucus, which had previously been aggrieved with Msimanga.

Even City employees seem disgruntled, with a group calling themselves Concerned Employees of Tshwane writing to both President Cyril Ramaphosa and Cooperative Governance MEC Lebogang Maile, asking for them to intervene in the City.

Maile said, while the department had enough reason to place DA-run municipalities in Gauteng under administration, that was not its objective, and that they were instead prioritising working together optimally to serve their respective communities.

When Trollip was quizzed by News24 regarding the claims and concerns around the Tshwane caucus, he declined to answer, saying he would never discuss internal party issues with the media.

Maimane, in raising concerns about its Tshwane members adhering to the DA’s principles, said the party was attempting to address the challenges facing its caucus.

“When it comes to the caucus. I have deployed people there to monitor that caucus to make sure we build a united team there that will deliver in Tshwane.”

Samwu strike

Maimane complained about the recent Samwu strike, which shut down the capital city for three days, questioning how the chief of police had failed to stop an “illegal march” from going ahead.

He said this was a failure of leadership and accountability.

“More than anything, I wanted to make sure in the adjudication of certain decisions that take place in that municipality, that we always uphold the DA’s principles in that regard, [ensuring] clean government, making sure that we don’t have contracts that are not of service to the people, making sure of the competence of the leadership.”

Mokgalapa’s office said it was not aware of moves by national leaders to get more involved in monitoring the performance of the municipality. Selfe, who’s recently been given the task of running the party’s governance unit, admitted to “closely monitoring” work being done under Mokgalapa’s watch, but said this was not “unique” to Tshwane.

He said the DA had appointed top leaders to closely monitor work across all the country’s metros.

“This is a programme implemented in order to clearly ascertain the state of affairs in those councils and the communities they serve; the intervention is to better prepare ourselves ahead of the 2021 elections,” said Selfe in an email response to News24.

Selfe also said the DA regularly met with its members who held elected office to ensure they were “on top of all issues” and able to “advise on any appropriate action, if necessary”.

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Jumia Finds Wrongdoing in Nigeria Sales Force as Loss W…

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While the Berlin-based company Jumia Technologies AG is taking measures to cut out instances of wrongdong, the findings backed up warnings made by short-sellers Citron in a report three months ago, which brought an abrupt end to a share-price rally following Jumia’s initial public offering in New York the previous month.

Jumia found cases where “improper orders were placed and subsequently cancelled,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday. These included deals made through a team of independent Nigerian sales consultants called J-Force. The transactions in question amounted to 2% of 2018 gross merchandise volume — a term for sales used in online retailing — rising to 4% in the first quarter of 2019.

J-Force allows the company to interact directly with customers but “requires constant improvement,” Jumia co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Sacha Poignonnec said in a conference call.

The retailer — sometimes dubbed Africa’s Amazon — has operations in 14 countries and is seeking to take advantage of rising incomes and better technology on the continent.

‘Unlimited Income’

In advertising for candidates to join J-Force, Jumia promises the opportunity to “earn unlimited income” while having “complete freedom and control over your activities.” Nigeria is ranked 144th on a list of 180 countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index, compiled by Transparency International.

The report of dubious sales practices comes after Citron called Jumia “an obvious fraud,” wiping out early gains from the IPO. The stock shed another 14% to $12.73 as of 12:39 p.m. in New York, dropping below the $14.50 listing price.

Jumia said second-quarter operating losses widened by 60% to 66.7 million euros ($74 million), mainly due to an increase in costs related to the vesting of share options following the IPO. The company’s target for profitability is late 2022, and the cash raised through the listing should take Jumia “close” to that, Poignonnec said.

The “business model has severe vulnerabilities,” Tellimer Markets Inc analysts led by Nirgunan Tiruchelvam said in a note following the results. “The business is intensely cashflow negative and we have concerns about its viability.”

In other news…

South Africa is in a very real battle. A political fight where terms such as truth and democracy can seem more of a suggestion as opposed to a necessity.

On one side of the battle are those openly willing to undermine the sovereignty of a democratic society, completely disregarding the weight and power of the oaths declared when they took office. If their mission was to decrease society’s trust in government – mission accomplished.

And on the other side are those who believe in the ethos of a country whose constitution was once declared the most progressive in the world. The hope that truth, justice and accountability in politics, business and society is not simply fairy tale dust sprinkled in great electoral speeches; but rather a cause that needs to be intentionally acted upon every day.

However, it would be an offensive oversight not to acknowledge that right there on the front lines, alongside whistleblowers and civil society, stand the journalists. Armed with only their determination to inform society and defend the truth, caught in the crossfire of shots fired from both sides.

If you believe in supporting the cause and the work of Daily Maverick then take your position on the battleground and sign up to Maverick Insider today.

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Splunk To Buy Cloud-Monitoring Software Maker SignalFx For $1.05 Billion

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Splunk Inc. reached a $1.05 billion deal to buy cloud-monitoring startup SignalFx Inc., a deal that would strengthen the cybersecurity and data-analytics firm’s offerings in the fast-growing cloud-computing sector. The Wall Street Journal reports: Founded in 2004, Splunk — a play on the word “spelunking” — collects and analyzes data to help companies identify patterns, like customers’ beverage preferences, and detect anomalies, say fraud or a cyberattack. Splunk officials told analysts that Splunk has some customer overlap with San Mateo, Calif.-based SignalFx and that the target company’s software represents a “top tier asset to the things that matter” to clients. Closely held SignalFx was valued at nearly $500 million after a $75 million funding round that closed in May, according to a Dow Jones VentureSource estimate.

The cash-and-stock deal is expected to close in the second half of Splunk’s fiscal year, which ends Jan. 31. San Francisco-based Splunk, which went public in 2012 and carries a nearly $1.5 billion deficit, said it would be able to absorb the added operating costs from the deal. Splunk has been increasing its cloud business, which accounted for 25% of revenues in the July quarter and is expected to represent half of operations over the next few years, company officials said.

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