When Nicole Pitt arrived at a friend's Sweet 16 party in Garden City, the driver walked to the back passenger door and opened it for her. "I felt like I was royalty," Pitt says.
While she's not a princess, Pitt did have a chariot that night -- a female driver from the new Teenage Taxi Club took Pitt, 16, a high-school sophomore, from her home in Elmont to the party, and then picked her up at midnight and took her home. She even asked Pitt what kind of music she'd like to listen to along the way.
Pitt was happy; her mom, Pat, was happy -- "I didn't have to get up in the middle of the night," she says -- and Yvette Allen-Campbell, chief executive and owner of the Teenage Taxi Club, was definitely happy to add another satisfied customer to her roster.
Allen-Campbell is a mom from Valley Stream who launched the Teenage Taxi Club in April to help busy parents get kids safely from point A to point B. She has four children -- ages 18, 16, 13 and 12 -- and the younger ones are stuck home unless Mom or Dad can drive them places.
"Can you take me to the movies? Can you just take me to 7-Eleven to get a Slurpee?" are common requests, she says. "I grew up in the Bronx, where we could jump on a train or a bus and go to Central Park or the zoo or the movies at age 13, 14, 15. I thought, 'What a shame.' "
So Allen-Campbell, who also is an administrator for Nassau BOCES, started her new business, which currently consists of one car, a white 2008 Scion with "Teenage Taxi Club" painted on the side. The club's three drivers -- two women and a man -- will transport kids anywhere in Nassau County.
HOW IT WORKS
Parents sign their kids up to be members of the club, paying an annual $140 family membership fee that helps pay for Allen-Campbell's driver vetting process, which she says includes a criminal-background check, driver's record review and more. Children must be ages 13 to 19; the service is not open to random callers. Kids get a membership ID card, and parents pay $2 a mile each trip in advance via credit card, so there's no exchange of money between child and driver. Nicole Pitt's Sweet 16 trip to Garden City cost $12 each way, Allen-Campbell says.
Parents and kids sign a contract covering issues such as behavior in the vehicle and punctuality. "If the car is there at 1 p.m. at the mall on Saturday, you need to be there at 1 p.m.," Allen-Campbell says. Only the member is allowed in the car; if the teen bumps into a good friend at the mall, he or she can't ask the driver to deviate from the route the parent approved.
Parents have to do the scheduling of trips. "We don't want the teen calling, 'Come and get me at high school' at 10 o'clock in the morning," Allen-Campbell says. The club operates from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays; its website is teenagetaxiclub.com, and parents can book trips by phone or online.
'PEACE OF MIND'
Allen-Campbell is partnering with a couple of camps in Nassau over the summer, such as Fundamental Sports Training in Westbury, to provide camper transportation. Harriet Roy of Lawrence plans to use the service to get her son, Terrin, 13, there and back. Roy also used the service over a recent school vacation so that Terrin could attend a basketball clinic. "I could get him there, but I couldn't pick him up," says Harriet Roy, a registered nurse who met Allen-Campbell when their sons played on the same basketball team. She says the service allows Terrin to do more things than he otherwise could and gives him some independence.
Leslie Davis, a member of the Westbury School Board, has known Allen-Campbell for years. Davis says she couldn't wait for her son Matthew, a seventh-grader, to turn 13 this month so he could become a member. Davis is a single parent and a teacher. "It's hard for me to drop everything to get my youngest," she says."
She was doubly sold on the idea when Allen-Campbell told her that if a family joins, an elderly family member can use the taxi service during the day on weekdays when kids are in school. Davis' mother lives with her and often needs to get to medical appointments during the day. "I thought that was a really big help for me," Davis says.Pitt learned about the club when she saw the car driving through her neighborhood. "I said, 'What is that?' That's when I tried to find out about it," she says. She talked to her husband, and they decided to join. So far, they've only used the service for their daughter's Sweet 16 invites. "With my schedule and my daughter's, sometimes it just doesn't coincide," Pitt says. "This could really work out great for us. It's just peace of mind."