Google Takes the Driver’s Seat
Waze Carpool offers drivers a lift at half the cost of Uber, Lyft, which could be a traffic dream.
The writing could have been on the wall in 2013 when Google purchased Israeli’s Waze, a social-mapping service that connects commuters via an app to make the way to anywhere quicker and easier. Google’s parent company Alphabet bought Waze, eyeing the data that the start-up was gathering among its 50 million users, nearly 25 percent of which are in the U.S.
The move also closed the road for competitor Facebook, which was negotiating with Waze. Experts felt that Google wouldn’t have taken too long to develop their own interactive traffic and mapping platform, but in the meantime, why let your competitors get their hands on it? (Talk about taking all the marbles.)
Now, the San Francisco area will be the pilot for Waze’s new evolution: Waze Carpool. As the company’s coy video states, “It appears a vast majority of cars have more than one seat already built in, so if commuters ride together everyone can beat rush hour traffic.” Right…we’re sure no one had thought of that until now, and it’s a safe bet they’re looking to beat more than rush hour traffic.
The pilot will add another layer of data for Google to play with, but will only be available at first to 25,000 employees of companies including Walmart and Adobe Systems, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Not a taxi service like Uber and Lyft, Waze Carpool will match riders with drivers already on the road heading in the same direction during the morning and evening rush hours.
In addition, Google is up front that drivers won’t be vetted through Waze Carpool, so the $0.54 per mile cost may get you exactly what you pay for. For now Google is not taking a cut of the fare, and Waze has stated that the fares are aimed lower to prevent drivers from becoming taxis. And as their website states, “Since so many people are already using Waze to get to work, why not help a fellow commuter heading in the same direction?”
The stress on ride sharing also keeps Google from the restrictions that Uber and Lyft have encountered. California laws state that in order to be considered ride sharing and not a taxi service (as Uber and Lyft are), the rides must be incidental (you as a driver are going that way anyway), drivers can’t make a wage (the fare is purposely the equivalent of the IRS mileage guidelines) and that no specialized insurance is required.
The bigger payoff comes in the data that Waze Carpool brings to the table, along with the interactivity of the maps feature, something Google Maps was lacking. Already on Waze, there are 500 editors on the maps, earning the title with points, and directly updating information on road hazards and traffic. In addition, any of the 50 million users can update and share data on closures, detours, speed traps and more in a real-time format.
As Google Maps is also intrinsically tied to SEO and SERPs for businesses, it will be interesting to watch what happens when a company that already has a sophisticated maps service will do with a second, albeit different, one. The social component that’s lacking from Google Maps could eclipse the locations giant, in a tech-twin-assuming-the-other scenario.
Some experts are musing that Google may go the route that Microsoft did when it purchased Skype in 2011. Microsoft Messenger closed soon after and Skype became the favored video and internet conversation platform for Microsoft.
If Google never takes a dime from drivers, the pay off has been in the data since Waze was first acquired. An interactive map is more than the streets, it’s the community of users providing information to each other and the mobile marketplace.
“It’s not just crowdsourcing. It’s personal participation,” said Di-Ann Eisnor, Waze’s vice president for platforms and partnerships in an interview with the New York Times just prior to the announcement of Google’s acquisition of Waze. That social interaction has been providing advertisers with key location information provided by the very engaged Waze user.