As parents look for reliable drivers to transport their children across the Valley, national ride-sharing companies are flooding the Phoenix market with their services.
Branding themselves as the “Uber for kids,” companies like Zum and HopSkipDrive have come to the Valley this last year with drivers ready to pick-up and drop-off young riders.
Gigi Buentipo of Ahwatukee has entered the market too with her own company, Gigi’s World Kids Taxi.
“In my world, kids are valued, they have a right to be heard and be respected,” Buentipo said.
Her love for children motivated Buentipo to start the business in April by opening an office on Chandler Boulevard. Six months later, Buentipo estimates her drivers are providing about 20 rides each day.
They mainly serve the Chandler and Scottsdale areas, she said, but the business keeps branching out as more parents find out about Gigi’s World.
“We don’t just give rides, we build relationships,” the owner added, emphasizing the fact she’s not worried about the handful of competitors who have come to the Valley since she opened.
Companies like Zum, Kango, and GoKart have been popping up across the country in recent years, filling a gap left by the age restrictions set by Uber and Lyft.
Some have managed to expand rapidly through million-dollar investments and partnerships with school districts.
These startups market themselves as safe and convenient options for busy families unable to rely on a neighborhood carpool.
Buentipo said she wants her clients to feel like family and not just a piece of cargo being shuttled around. Her riders are greeted with water and snacks once they enter a vehicle and drivers are encouraged to ask them questions about their day at school.
All drivers undergo background checks, Buentipo said, and receive CPR training. Parents are able to track their child through a mobile app and they get notified once the child makes it to their destination.
The driver further ensures children safely enter their destination by waiting for the child to wave back at them before departing.
“Safety is first to me,” Buentipo said.
And Buentipo doesn’t refer to her employees as drivers – she calls them transportation specialists.
With a parent’s permission, these specialists may conduct random acts of kindness by treating kids to some ice cream or a slushee before dropping them off.
The company’s rates vary depending on how far kids need to be driven and how many will be riding along.
There’s a flat fee for entering the vehicle and then a charge of $1.50 for each mile. An extra $5 fee is applied for any additional stops that are requested.
Buentipo had been working at call centers before realizing she needed to find a more fulfilling career.
“I just felt like I was empty inside,” she recalled.
She had a spiritual vision of families needing help manage their demanding schedules and understood she could offer a service that would benefit the community.
She said she never wants a parent to feel like they need to choose between their child and their career.
Even though the business sometimes keeps her working until midnight, Buentipo said its worth it because she feels like she’s making a difference.
“It’s a passion, it’s not a job,” she said.
Gigi’s World is available Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.. Hours on Saturday and Sunday are extended to 9:30 p.m.