Driving Mr. Baby

It was a miserable, rainy afternoon and the street outside Dalton’s Lower School on East 91st Street was clogged with SUV’s picking up schoolkids. Two drivers of the cars refused to divulge their names, perhaps fearing reprisal from their employers if they spoke to the press, but said that they both worked for families with three children and spent a great deal of time shuttling these kids to activities. One added that while there was a babysitter for the youngest child, the older two went places just with him. Did a parent or nanny accompany the driver when he took his young charges around?

“There is no need,” the man said.

A generation of Manhattan moms showing up to private-school drop-offs and pickups via public bus wearing scruffy loafers has yielded to a battalion of yummy mummies, clattering out of black Escalades and Denalis in Louboutin heels. And who is often at the wheel of these big black SUV’s clogging the Upper East Side? Wave hello to the “dranny,” a hybrid of driver and nanny that is the latest member of the rich urban family’s retinue.

“He arranges things and is also our house manager,” said Anne B., a working Park Avenue mother of children in private school who, like most parents interviewed for this article, did not want her full name used, partly for security reasons. “He talks to the soccer coach.”

“He’s one of the most important people in my life!” gushed Barbara S., another Park Avenue mother of two who hired a “dranny” after post-9/11 anxiety set in (“I don’t take the subway,” she said), not to mention mounting frustration at the impossibility of finding a free cab at 5 p.m. outside of Gymtime. “He really cares about the kids and is like part of the family,” she said (the kids, however, are instructed not to call him “their” driver to friends). “He even waited in the ER with my mother.”

Jill Zarin, an Upper East Side mother of a teenager, who together with her husband operates Zarin Fabrics and Home Furnishing, is a “dranny” pioneer, having employed one for a decade—“I talk to Juan about a lot of things,” enthused her 10th-grade daughter, Allyson Shapiro—and calls the hire a practical investment. “Cabs are exorbitant!” said Ms. Zarin, who is featured on the upcoming Bravo TV series The Real Housewives of New York City (see article, page C4). “I took a cab from 60th street to downtown the other day and it cost me $20.”

According to Keith Greenhouse, CEO of the midtown-based Pavillion Agency/Nanny Authority, who matches personal service employees with the “super-elite,” drivers working a 40-hour week make on average between $50,000 and $60,000 per year. Meanwhile, nannies average between $42,000 and $62,000 gross (on the books), said Holly Rucki, a placement specialist at Pavillion Agency. Assuming three children—the new Upper East Side standard—that non-driving nanny could also require something like $16,000 annually for cabs and mass transit for a five-day week and multiple afternoon activities, so one can see how employing a “dranny” might make a certain kind of financial sense.

“As the kids get older, the nanny may have less responsibility and the driver may step in,” Mr. Greenhouse said.

Brian Taylor, owner of New York Domestics, a household staffing agency on Fifth Avenue, said he’s seen a 20 percent increase in families hiring private drivers in the past two years, and that their responsibilities often include ferrying the father to work, the mother to her appointments, and the kids to and from schools, play dates, and after-school activities. “The driver becomes a working member of the family,” he said.

Life Lessons of the 6 Train

Not all the affluent are delighted by this new trend, of course.

“It’s about a badge. All banker Wall Street families have to do the same thing,” Leslie J., a native New Yorker with children who walk to their nearby private school, said with evident disgust. “Having drivers keeps these women away from the dirty parts of the city, which for some of them includes all forms of public transportation.”

Adam Shapiro, another native New Yorker and a Park Avenue lawyer with his own kids in private school, expressed nostalgia for less ostentatious times. “When I was growing up in the city, very few people had drivers and having one was a big, noticeable deal,” he wrote in an e-mail message. “Part of growing up was learning how to budget transportation time, how to choose the best route and how to take responsibility for ourselves. The rewards: self-confidence, freedom to explore the city and a treasure of experiences. Many of my friends’ parents probably could have afforded drivers, but it would never have occurred to them to hire one for themselves, let alone for us.”

“These kids are not being taught how to navigate in an urban environment,” tsked Victoria Goldman, author of The Manhattan Guide to Private Schools (Soho Press, $30). “It’s a total misuse of power to have a driver wait in front of a bar for a 10th- or 11th-grader to come out.”

Driving Mr. Baby