Dealing with children can be difficult, especially at the end of a long school day, when the arrival of a shuttle often forces them to leave their friends on the playground.
And dealing with parents can be just as difficult. This isn't just a simple business transaction, after all; some parents or teachers like to chat with the concierge. So there is a time buffer built into every pickup.
If it grows, Boost could help Mercedes-Benz's existing business. For one thing, it could breed loyalty with suburbanites who buy a Mercedes-Benz and come to rely on the brand for help in other facets of their life. It also could help sales of Sprinter and Metris vans, just as Car2Go has created a market for the Smart ForTwo.
Yet it seems likely Daimler wouldn't run an expanded Boost itself, the way it runs Car2Go. Rather, it would license the software platform to reputable bus operators that understand the business and can provide superior service.
"School buses are a hyperlocal business," Zarif said. "For a big entity like us to try to do it locally would be a huge challenge."
Zarif's team came up with the idea for Boost in July 2012. After three months of research and pitches to management in Stuttgart, the project got the green light. It launched in April 2013 with a single Sprinter van.
The inspiration came from research into the suburbs at the Silicon Valley r&d center.
"Options like public transportation and car-sharing are reduced in the suburbs because of low density and, to some extent, because of values," said Eric Larsen, head of the society and technology group at the r&d center. "So we asked ourselves: What are the possible unmet needs that people have for getting around in the suburbs? To a large extent, it's people who don't or can't drive."
Children rose to the top of that list. Also ranking high were people who can't drive because of a disability and older people who have dialed back their driving.
Along with Boost, Mercedes-Benz is testing a commuter shuttle program called RanchRide in the Southern California towns of Ladera Ranch and Rancho Mission Viejo. Developers who build sprawling housing tracts often must pay for new roads. Mercedes-Benz thinks subsidized commuter shuttles may attract homebuyers and ease traffic, reducing road costs and making shuttles irresistible to developers.
Susan Shaheen, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies shared mobility, said services such as Boost and RanchRide could shake up patterns of car ownership. If parents no longer have to pick up children from school, they might commute by mass transit instead. If a two-car household can make do with one, it might be willing to spend more on that single car and go for a luxury make such as Mercedes.
"Some people might argue that the suburban market is even larger than the urban core market," Shaheen said. "I think we're going to see more experimentation there."