Waze ex­pands its car­pool­ing ser­vice in U.S.

Texarkana Gazette - - BUSINESS - By Michael Liedtke

SAN FRAN­CISCO—Google will be­gin of­fer­ing its pay-to-car­pool ser­vice through­out the U.S., an ef­fort to re­duce the com­mute-time con­ges­tion that its pop­u­lar Waze nav­i­ga­tion app is de­signed to avoid.

The ex­pan­sion an­nounced Wed­nes­day builds upon a car­pool­ing sys­tem that Waze be­gan test­ing two years ago in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia and Is­rael be­fore grad­u­ally ex­tend­ing it into Brazil and parts of 12 other states.

Now it will be avail­able to any­one in the U.S.

Driv­ers will­ing to give some­one a ride need only Waze’s app on their phone. Any­one want­ing a ride will need to in­stall a dif­fer­ent Waze app fo­cused on car­pool­ing.

Rid­ers pay a small fee to chip in for gas and other ex­penses. It’s sup­posed to be sim­i­lar to what it would cost to take pub­lic trans­porta­tion to work, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany. For in­stance, Waze typ­i­cally sets a price of about $8 for a car­pool­ing ride from San Fran­cisco to Moun­tain View, Calif.—the home of Google and other tech com­pa­nies.

About 1.3 mil­lion driv­ers and pas­sen­gers have signed up for Waze’s car­pool­ing ser­vice, the com­pany says. About 30 mil­lion peo­ple in the U.S. cur­rently rely on the Waze app for di­rec­tions; it has 110 mil­lion users world­wide.

Waze’s car­pool­ing ef­fort has been viewed as a po­ten­tial first step for Google to mount a chal­lenge to the two top ride-hail­ing ser­vices, Uber and Lyft.

But Waze founder and CEO Noam Bardin re­jected that no­tion in an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press, in­sist­ing that the car­pool­ing ser­vice is purely an at­tempt to ease traf­fic con­ges­tion.

“We don’t want to be a pro­fes­sional driv­ing net­work,” Bardin said. “We see ride shar­ing as some­thing that needs to be­come part of the daily com­mute. If we can’t get peo­ple out of their cars, it won’t be solv­ing any­thing.”

Gart­ner an­a­lyst Mike Ram­sey also sees Waze’s ser­vice as a big­ger threat to other car­pool­ing apps such as Scoop and Car­pool Buddy than to Uber and Lyft. “Car­pool­ing is a much dif­fer­ent an­i­mal,” he said.

It’s a form of trans­porta­tion that Bardin said Waze had dif­fi­culty fig­ur­ing out. Early on, Waze tried to get more driv­ers to sign up by em­pha­siz­ing the eco­nomic ben­e­fits of hav­ing some­one help cover gas costs for a trip that they were go­ing to make any­way.

But ear­lier this year, Waze re­al­ized it needed a bet­ter for­mula for con­nect­ing strangers will­ing to ride to­gether in a car. Many women, for in­stance, only want to ride with other women, Bardin said, while other peo­ple en­joy com­mut­ing with oth­ers who work for the same em­ployer or live in the same neigh­bor­hood.

“Car­pool­ing is a more so­cial ex­pe­ri­ence,” Bardin said. “A lot of time those of us work­ing in the dig­i­tal world for­get that so­cial con­nec­tions are of­ten the most im­por­tant thing in the real world.”

As part of the hu­man in­ter­ac­tion that oc­curs af­ter Waze’s tech­nol­ogy makes a match, the driver and pas­sen­ger can work out some lo­gis­tics, such as pick-up points and de­par­ture times, be­tween them­selves. Ide­ally, once peo­ple find a group they like, they keep car­pool­ing to­gether through the app.

Driv­ers and rid­ers can agree to ad­just the price from what Waze sug­gests—up to the max­i­mum the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice al­lows for busi­ness-re­lated mileage, cur­rently 54.5 cents per mile. It’s not meant as a job for the driver, but a way to cover ex­penses.

Waze han­dles pay­ment trans­fers with­out charg­ing a com­mis­sion, some­thing it can af­ford to do be­cause Google makes so much money from sell­ing dig­i­tal ads on Waze and its many other ser­vices.

Even though Waze’s car­pool­ing ser­vice doesn’t ap­pear to be driven by profit mo­tive, Ram­sey isn’t con­vinced that will al­ways be the case. “I do think Google is real­iz­ing that it can’t just keep mak­ing all its money from sell­ing ads,” he said.

“A lot of time those of us work­ing in the dig­i­tal world for­get that so­cial con­nec­tions are of­ten the most im­por­tant thing in the real world.”

—Noam Bardin, Waze founder

AP Photo/Eric Ris­berg

■ The Waze ap­pli­ca­tion is dis­played on a smart­phone March 27, 2017, in San Fran­cisco. Google an­nounced Wed­nes­day it will be­gin of­fer­ing its pay-to-car­pool ser­vice through­out the U.S. in an ef­fort to re­duce the com­mute-time con­ges­tion that its pop­u­lar Waze nav­i­ga­tion app is de­signed to avoid.

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