Don’t Abuse A Cluster Taxi

by cv harquail on August 26, 2010

Within an au pair cluster, there are always some host families with relaxed car guidelines and even some families that don’t care at all what gets done with their au pair’s car. And, there are always some au pairs with significant constraints– their driving is bad, their host parents have only one car — and these au pairs need help getting one place or another.

201008260653.jpgUnfortunately however, these situations combine to create what’s called the Cluster Taxi— the one au pair car that ends up doing all the mileage for a group of au pairs.

And, the Cluster Taxi ends up creating a Cluster Cabdriver— the au pair that ends up with the responsibility and also usually the costs of driving everyone else around.

Don’t allow your au pair car to become the Cluster Taxi.

Don’t allow your au pair to become the Cluster Cabdriver.

If you provide your au pair with a dedicated car (or the frequent use of a family car), help set some guidelines for when s/he can and can’t use that car for driving other au pairs around. Even though curfews, mileage limits and the like will put some constraints on car use, talk about the Cluster Taxi Problem directly. Help your au pair suggest to her or his friends that they all take turns driving and providing the car for their shared outings.

Don’t expect another au pair or another family to provide transportation for your au pair.

Au pairs can and should share rides, to make things efficient and fun. But no au pair or host family should provide transportation when you are unwilling to provide for your au pair yourself.

I admit that, as the host parent who provides her au pairs with a dedicated ‘au pair’ car, I’ve often resented being taken advantage of by host families (and au pairs) who did not and would not provide safe, reasonable and convenient¬† transportation themselves. I’m all for the idea of ride sharing, and car pooling, but I’ve resented it when it’s always been our car. I don’t want my generosity, or my au pair’s generosity, taken advantage of.

And, I’ve especially resented it when it’s become our au pair’s extra burden to pick up and drop off 3 or 4 other au pairs when they go out, adding extra work for her. At one point, one au pair “friend” asked my au pair to drive her and her boyfriend to the movies, and my au pair was so sweet and kindhearted she felt she couldn’t say no.¬† So I did– I told the au pair “friend” that our au pair would no longer provide her with rides.

Sometimes the host parents do have to intervene to help the au pairs save face.

201008260657.jpgAs iMom writes:

I have also been frustrated by other host families not being considerate of the needs of their AP to get around, which ended up being inconsiderate to my AP and to me because my AP had to drive her around.

Case in point, one family would not set their AP up with direct deposit of her paychecks and yet did not provide transportation to the bank for her to deposit her checks!

I really don’t know what they could have expected except that someone else would have to drive her. MY AP usually ended up driving her to the bank every Friday. Perhaps I should have said something, but I never did. My AP didn’t mind much because they usually spent time together Friday evenings anyway, but it was still a hassle and very inconsiderate!

What have your experiences been with the Cluster Taxi?

Have you come up with any ways to avoid abuse, while creating a nice situation of ride sharing?

Image: Three Amigos from timsamoff

{ 21 comments }

HRHM August 26, 2010 at 10:01 am

This also can become an issue when AP is a non-drinker (or underage) when the others are not. Even if they all have access to a car, the non-drinker gets stuck being DD over and over again. Since we don’t let others drive our car, it’s our car that ends up being used. I think the drinkers should intermittently foot the bill for a taxi instead, but they aren’t volunteering. :)

ExAP August 26, 2010 at 11:23 am

I think it’s important for the au pair to at least get the money for the gas paid by the other au pairs s/he’s taking with her/him. That should be made clear up front- by the au pair.

Au Pair in CO August 26, 2010 at 11:37 am

I sometimes pick up one of my au pair friends when we’re going to the gym together, going out for dinner or things like that, but it’s usually not more than once a week, and it’s only a little mile longer for me to pick her up and drop her off.

Her host parents does not let her drive their car unless she’s going to school or doing something with the kids. She’s been her for 7 months, and is still not allowed to take the car to do anything, not even just to the nearest Target or whatever. I don’t think it’s because of her driving skills, as they trust her to drive their kids around. So naturally, the other au pairs help her out by picking her up every now and then, or she’d never be able to leave the house.

HostMominVA August 26, 2010 at 11:38 am

Perhaps this is a hot-button issue for me, but I could not disagree more with the perspective offered above. Part of growing up and becoming an adult is learning how not to be taken advantage of by others. If your au pair has become a cluster taxi driver and s/he resents this role, the answer is to decline to drive others around. Similarly, there is nothing wrong with an au pair asking another au pair for a ride frequently so long as s/he accepts that the answer may be ‘no.’

As a host parent I feel no obligation to arrange for my au pair’s transportation beyond attending classes and au pair meetings. I am certainly not going to take any responsibility for monitoring her ride-sharing behavior. (For the record, she is welcome to use the family’s one car on weeknights and she may have exactly one additional passenger. We live in a metro-accessible area with reasonably priced public transportation. When it is convenient for me and she is going out, I will offer the occasional ride.)

If you are a host parent and you don’t want your car turned into the cluster taxi, set some rules and enforce them. If you are an au pair, don’t abuse your fellow au pairs or allow yourself to be taken advantage of by becoming the group’s chauffer.

hOstCDmom August 26, 2010 at 12:26 pm

I agree with you 100 (110!) percent HostMominVA!!

We are in a unique situation. We have a non-driving AP in an area not served/not served well by public transport.

We don’t NEED a driving AP –because we pretty much walk everywhere we/the kids need to go — and yes, we the HP also walk the kids. We will walk rather than drive if it is less than 1.5 miles, and we expect our many, and young, children to do so also. So no double standard for the AP. We would PREFER to have a driving AP, but matched with an AP that meets other needs we have, so when she turned out to be a non-driver we decided we could live with it.

I should mention that we have a non-driving AP because she lied about her driving skills…i.e. said she can drive and she can’t (per evaluation by a driving instructor, not just our opinion) and she is required by law (because of the country she hails from) to get a license in our state before she can drive at all in our state. There is no grace period, she is not allowed even to practice with us. Her country doesn’t participate in the IDP convention, that’s why she can’t drive with her country’s license + IDP for even a limited period. She probably needs to spend $1-2k to take enough driving lessons in order to pass our state test. We won’t pay for these lessons. She’s been, in theory, preparing for 3 months to pass the 8 hour course required by our state BEFORE one can even take the written driving exam (we are paying for this course, because we would have done so for her even if she had been a super driver, but simply had to jump through our state law hoops to get the state license).

She is still unable to pass the 8 hour course test 3 months in…. We’ve said that IF she passes the exams we will put her on our insurance to drive our car locally, for her personal use (NO WAY is she driving our children.) I don’t really know if she will achieve this, but we set this all out for her and she agreed that she is ok with these terms and rules. Agency completely backs us. Only other options was to send her back to her home country, which she obviously didn’t want.

So, now we find ourself with an AP who can only go a limited number of places without driving. And we have only committed to drive her to meetings and to the station for weekend long credit courses. We told her she has to take the weekend courses for her credits that are possible to get to by public transport (train) and we’ll drive her the 30 min to the train station, but we won’t drive her to weekly or multiple time per week language classes that she could have driven herself to if she were a driver.

We told her that figuring out her transportaion will be *her* challenge, not ours. That she will need to ask friends, offer them gas money, ride a bike, walk, or perhaps sometimes miss out on things. But that figuring it all out was completely her responsiblity, not ours.

So, that’s my long winded way of explaining that I’m very with HostMominVA — this is our 5th AP, and I would have agreed with HostMominVA re the previous 4 who were good drivers — but I especially agree with her now that I’m confronted with such stark facts….

hOstCDmom August 26, 2010 at 1:00 pm

To be clear, which perhaps I was not above, and it might make us sound more draconian than we are :)

In our state one has to take 8 hr course (that has exams as part of it), THEN a written exam, THEN an on the road exam. All 3 parts are required to get the state license.

We will pay for the 8hr course and the cost of the license, which we feel is our obligation for any AP. When AP has an actual license we will put her on our insurance, again, of course, at our cost — and even if she is just driving for personal time and not “as part of her job”.

We also, of course, offer to drive our AP places when we are going there, and when we have driven her to meetings we have said she can put the word out and we will drive any AP in the cluster who needs a ride (the HP equivalent of the APs sharing responsibility of driving to the meetings). But we will not be her taxi for personal driving, social life etc.

In our small-ish New England town AP can walk to several grocery stores, drugstores, many shops, a few coffee shops, sandwich shops, hairdressers/nail places, swimming pool, library, YMCA type rec center, several gyms, post office, banks, restaurants and a small cinema. All less than 1 mile walk, many less than .25 miles (we live right in town). All of this walking is on safe sidewalks. This is why we felt we could tell AP that her personal transport was her responsibility, not ours. BUT she can’t get to many places the APs in our town like to and want go (clubs, malls, more extensive shopping, other APs houses who live farther out of town etc.) Our area is not a public transport area, and her not driving is a definite negative.

Taking a Computer Lunch August 26, 2010 at 11:25 pm

OMG, she sounds just like my last AP. It took her months of lessons to pass HD’s driving test. She joined a congregation 2 1/2 hours from our house by public transportation (30 minutes driving), but we made it clear that we were not going to give her a lift. We gave her benchmarks to learn to drive the automatic transmission vehicle – The Camel has too many doctor’s appointments for DH and I to be the drivers. She had to spend over $400 of her own money on lessons (we spent $277 and APIA picked up the difference of splitting the cost).

She figured out the public transportation system well enough, and then around month 7 got motivated enough to learn to drive the manual transmission car. We did let her drive, even though she never got a license in our state. That was one of the reasons we chose not to extend with her (she never even bothered to take the 3-hour-class required before our motor vehicles office reviewed her documents). She ended up extending with a family who made it clear she would not be driving their car.

In general, our APs end up being the chauffeur. One other HF told our first AP she would be driving their AP to class, and I contacted them and told them it was reasonable to contribute money to the upkeep of the car and not to ask their AP to pay it. Our APs have all realized it is a privilege and not a right and all have commented on how much difficulty their friends have in getting a car for a night out. Sometimes they insist that the group hire a taxi, so they can have a drink, too. I think that’s a sensible solution.

Anne August 26, 2010 at 12:36 pm

My AP and I might “let ourselves be taken advantage of” because we feel sorry for an AP isolated in a planned community with miles and miles of house after house and no way to leave the house except once a week for a class because her host parents “have no obligation” to see that she has the opportunity to go anywhere else.

hOstCDmom August 26, 2010 at 1:36 pm

I guess this comment might be directed to me. I just gave some detail above that explains better our situation. We are not in a planned community by any means. we live 200 yards from the bank, library, post office and 3 coffee shops, ice cream, harware and 3 restaurants. We are not isolated.

But to the class point, we will not drive her to a weekly class. Some might think that is mean, but we do not have the bandwidth to be her taxi. (In our area it is possible to take weekend long, overnight dorm accomodation type classes, that offer 3 credits for the 2 day weekend. We will drive her to and from the train station to take 2 of these weekend long courses.)

Again, our location, (not) available public transport, desire for a competant driver was all made clear in our application, letter etc. I also sent our prospective AP a 25 question driving questionnaire that I use for all APs, AND discussed all her responses with her. She quite simply fibbed because she so badly want to come to the USA to be an AP.

She is a nice girl and a good AP otherwise — we gave her the option of rematch (which agency said would mean she would be sent home) or live with the transport arrangements I have outlined here on the blog. She chose to stay with us and work toward getting her license, on her time, and primarily at her cost. There were no hidden or unfair aspects to the arrangement.

Our previous APs have all been decent to very good drivers, and all have had shared use of our 2 cars which has worked well with all of them. They have access every weeknight, every weekend evening, and about 2/3 of the time on weekend days, depending on if we occasionally need 2 cars during the day on a Saturday or Sunday.

This is what our current AP will have if/when she manages to get a state license.

MommyMia August 26, 2010 at 3:57 pm

hOstCDmom, I think you’re being more than fair after being misled about your AP’s driving skills, and I know a lot of APs who would love to be in a location such as yours where they could walk to some businesses. I think you reached an excellent compromise on the class requirement, also (wish that we had those weekend courses out here on the west coast!) Kudos to you and your family for being earth-friendly and walking whenever possible yourselves.

Host Mommy Dearest August 26, 2010 at 4:56 pm

This is all more than fair for so many reasons. Your AP is super lucky that you don’t live in the middle of no where. This is not you being inconsiderate and selfish, this is you working with the hand you were dealt through no fault of your own. We had a similar situation and we ended up being our AP’s taxi one year because we felt bad she could not get anywhere on her own and we thought it was too harsh to send her packing since we didn’t need her to drive to do the job. Looking back, it contributed to her general miserableness so for everyone’s sake we should have rematched. Now we do need a driver and I like happy au pairs (not isolated, miserable ones), so I get a professional driving instructor to take them out and do an eval the day after they arrive. If there was not truth in advertising on the driving skills I will need to rematch.

Mumsy August 26, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Our 4 APs all had the same car privileges – they had a limited driving area but did not have to pay for use of the car. The first 3 APs did not become the AP cluster taxi but our 4th AP did. We spoke to her about it after noticing excessive mileage on the car and asked her to come up with a solution. She suggested a mileage limit per week and also suggested that she say no to being the cluster taxi going forward. By having her come up with the solution, we did not have any problems going forward. She used to monitor her mileage herself and we never checked the exact miles that she used every week as the mileage was within reason.

Gianna August 26, 2010 at 12:12 pm

It is not just the gas or the wear and tear on the car that is at issue. It is the fact that if someone else causes an accident , and anyone in the car that is not at fault get hurt , it is going to be the liability of the host parents who generously offered the car. I have actually heard people I know say that they encourage their aupairs to get rides from other aupairs or ” make friends with someone who has a car “. This is not nice behavior but it is quite common. A host mother who never shared a car once called me and asked about ” carpooling “. It turned out that by ” carpooling ” she meant that someone would drive her aupair to and from meetings. I explained that I did not consider that carpooling. Then, this lady asked me ( she had recently relocated)
if everyone in this area of the country was so cold and selfish ! I did feel sorry for her aupair who was stuck in an affluent suburb without a downtown or easy access to public transportation. But , the bottom line is that host families have no obligation to transport other people’s aupairs.

JBLV August 26, 2010 at 1:52 pm

This is timely! We have a new AP, and she has proven to be a safe, responsible driver. Because of this, and also because she is a bit older than our last AP, we have relaxed some of the rules/guidelines in family handbook, specifically the one about not having anyone else in the car with her during the first three months of her arrival. Problem is that another AP lives a considerable distance away (wear and tear on the car/gas), on a dangerous road (there were 7 fatalities last year on it), and for these we just don’t feel comfortable having our AP chauffeur her. Now I have to come up with a tactful way of asking her to limit her trips out there… I don’t want her to feel disappointed because so far she has been a great AP.

Anne August 26, 2010 at 2:06 pm

JBLV, if you tell your AP what you said here, I think a safe driver will understand why you don’t want her driving on that road. As a compromise, could the friend’s host parents drive her to a midpoint or someowhere beyond the dangerous road?

dclover August 26, 2010 at 4:49 pm

This post just reminds me of my au pair time…
I was au pair in a little town with a rare offer of public transportation (just taxis, which were pretty expensive and one bus, which drove just downtown, means between 2 stations).
There were 2 girls in my cluster which actually did not wanna spend time with the other ones or their friends (we were a group of friends mixed with au pairs and americans), but they had a midnight curfew on their cars and were not allowed to take people their hp did not know. They lived in the county, like each about 20 min out of town. Well, everytime they needed a ride, they stopped by at a friends house and just by the way they needed a ride to come home and asked us to drive them and they never offerd gas money or anything like that. Sometimes in the middle of the night! So they just took advantage of us.
The top of the story was when there was a festival in town, they came over to meet us, everyone but me was not able to drive anymore. So just before I wanted to leave, they asked me if I could give them a ride and I told them I could not cause I had to work the other day and could not make a detour of an hour that night.
The day after I talked with my hf about it and they gave me the advice to tell them that they would not allow me to drive other people around at night…but it came different, I never had to use this advice, cause the girls never talked to us again.
The end of the story was that one of the girls, which stayed longer than me in the states, told the new au pair lies about me, and even worser, about my hostfamily, although she did not know my hf and I never talked with her about them.

LI Host Mom August 27, 2010 at 8:49 am

Our AP came to us after a rematch for both of us. We dont need a driving AP and she went into rematch because of a car accident the 1st month here. She understood there would be no car for her use. She also understood that we have taxi’s and we have a bus and when she came she had a bicycle for her use. She also informed us that walking 20 min wasnt considered long for her. I explained to get to the “big” city (NYC)she could take the railroad and she could walk or bike to that – or if I was here I could drive her…There are many AP’s in our town…she ended up having a very active social life and would have several AP friends with car privileges that would often pick her up to go out of town shopping, eating, beach and a variety of other events. Our town is big and has an active community and town with 2 multi-plex theatres and lots of restaurants. I never felt I was responsible for any other transportation than the ones we provided. She also knew we would drop her off locally (within a 15 min drive) if we could. I have a disability in my leg and we have one car…I could not run the risk of not having my car. It worked out but I know at the end of the year she would have preferred having a car to use even with so many options.

StephinBoston August 27, 2010 at 9:57 am

We have three cars, one is dedicated for the AP, she’s cannot drive our other 2 cars. We live in a smallish Boston Suburb where there is no public transportation but a commuter rail station to Boston. They can use the car at night and weekends, but I do have a car curfew. I also ask them not to drive into the city, they can drive the car to the commuter rail or the subway. My two driving APs (first one stopped driving after she totaled the car) have been very good at not only respecting the rules but also sharing rides with friends. I think most HFs in the area tell their APs the same thing, “please share the driving with your friends” so they usually do a pretty good job of car pooling and exchanging who drives. Each AP has put about 6000 miles on the car for a year which I think is reasonable (kids driving is probably 2000 of those miles). We pay for the kids driving miles and they cover the rest.

JJ Host Mom August 27, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Our “au pair car” is an old pickup truck that has 150K miles, has already been totalled, but still runs great. It only seats 2 people. So she has the freedom to drive when and where she wants (within the reasonable limits of our car rules), but will never be the person driving around 4 other au pairs all the time. We’re also not going to be heartbroken if she gets it into an accident (although of course we’d prefer that didn’t happen.)

JJ Host Mom August 27, 2010 at 12:40 pm

I should clarify that she uses my 4-seater car during the day to drive the kids around, and my husband or I drives the truck to work.

D September 14, 2010 at 12:57 pm

I think the perspective is simple. It’s “your” car, not there’s. An au pair should be respective of that and realize (as an adult should) that car pooling everyone all the time does not help the family or herself and is trully beyond limits of whats fair for everyone. Of course, it’s the family’s responsibility to let the girls know their driving expectations up front. But beyond that, the au pairs will need to make adult decisions too. Like saying ‘no’ when realizing she is being taken advantage of. Maturity seems to play a large part in this decision making process. A car is not an entitlement as an au pair, therefore it should always be the au pairs responsiblility for her free time transportation logistics without placing burdens on the host family.

Our au pairs have no curfew and do whatever they want in their free time.

With that said…..we do have car limitations for “our car”. We recommend car pooling but only in situations where they are sharing with other girls ‘fairly’, taking turns for example to save gas money. Our other limitations…..is they must always leave the car parked at home and make other arrangments for transportation in these situations.

Going to a nightclub
Going out of town (beyond radius of 30 miles of our city center)
Spending the night with someone that is not an au pair
Wanting to drive the car around town past midnight
When they will be gone more than ‘1’ night in a row
If they stay in a hotel

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