TOLLESON, AZ — The Tolleson Union High School District is launching a new pilot program that allows parents in underserved communities to use a rideshare service to get kids to and from school.
The district secured a $2 million transportation grant from the state's "A for Arizona" $20 million grant program.
Chief Financial Officer Jeremy Calles says the state believed in their program so much they were given the maximum amount of funding allowed.
The pilot program is for kids who fall under the McKinney- Vento Homeless Assistance Act, are in foster care, or choose open enrollment and live outside the district's boundaries.
"Of course, as any parent knows it's very hectic in the morning. You're getting yourself ready for work but also having to worry about getting your child to school can be a lot for a parent in the morning," Calles said.
Calles says the program is designed to ease the transportation burden for those who need it the most.
"So we're able to take that off their plate by now offering this transportation to get them into our bus route," he said.
The district is partnering with rideshare service Hop Skip Drive, a service designed specifically for parents with kids.
"Now they have the ease of just pulling up an app and scheduling all of their transportation needs."
After picking the student up from home the rideshare service drops them off at the last bus stop on the route and the students ride the bus for the last leg into school. Parents can track their child's progress in real-time through the app.
"What we're doing is we're creating a hub and spoke model where the driver will pick up the student from their house, bring them to the last bus stop that we have, and then they'll ride the bus into the school from that last bus stop, so it’s a very short bus ride," Calles said.
"By doing that we're able to have that care driver from Hop Skip Drive avoid our parent drop-off lines."
Calles says the program has only been up and running for a few weeks. They serve just over a dozen students right now but hope to expand the program soon and offer it to as many as 300 students.
Drivers for the Hop Skip Drive rideshare must pass a stringent 15 point background check and have at least five years of experience as a licensed caregiver.
"They really enjoy making a difference in their community and helping children get to school," said Senior Vice President of Marketing, Miriam Ravkin.
Ravkin says Hop Skip Drive is a perfect solution to the nationwide school bus driver shortage.
"Because we are able to take on any inefficient route, or students with special needs, students experiencing homelessness, or students in foster care, we are freeing up their resources for bus drivers to pick up the regular route kids," she said.
"And thereby it solves the bus driver shortage permanently because there's no more inefficient bus routes and no more hours in transit."
The company is based out of Los Angeles and is currently available in eight cities. Ravkin says they're proud to partner with the Tolleson district and serve the Phoenix area community.
"They've called us a lifesaver and we're just so happy to do it," Ravkin said.
"I'm just so happy because some of the kids who we are driving, they have no other way to get to school if it wasn't for us because not everybody has a parent who can drive them."
Calles says the district will collect data from the program in hopes of getting an extension once the initial grant funding runs out.
"I'd actually love to have this service for all of our students," Calles said.