Waze, the Israeli-created GPS maps application that tracks traffic and crowdsources up-to-the-minute reports on everything from accidents to potholes, was snapped up by Google in 2013, and as that company has incorporated Waze information into its Google Maps application, it's also begun to connect Waze users — 900,000 in the Bay Area — to encourage carpooling. If, per Waze's motto, the goal is "outsmarting traffic, together," then what better way to do so than by taking cars off the road?
A small pilot program in and around Mountain View was first, then last summer Waze, which operates as a unit of Google parent Alphabet, announced its San Francisco launch. As of this week Waze Carpool is now in all nine Bay Area counties and has entered a partnership with Kaiser Permanente, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Bay Area Toll Authority, and UCSF. That was announced on Facebook yesterday, and Forbes had the inside story.
For Waze Carpool, which already operates across Israel, participants provide information like a Facebook or LinkedIn profile and car details to be paired with others who might be headed the same way. Rather than competing with Uber and Lyft on its own turf, Josh Fried, head of business development for Waze, tells Forbes that "We have no intention of going above the 54-cent IRS cap as that brings us into a whole other type of service and we're very committed to keeping this as a not-for-profit, share the expense type of carpool, for regular people going to and from work... There's no way to become a professional Carpool driver -- it's about a ride to work and a ride home."
Further, drivers can't make more than two rides per day, so there's no incentive to drive more than you would already plan on. And, as for Waze's cut: "We are not collecting a fee, but eventually we will," Fried says, as is the case in Israel.
Major employers like UCSF and Kaiser see the Waze system as in keeping with their own goals, as, predictably, does the MTC. “The transportation option with the greatest available capacity in the Bay Area remains the empty seats in people’s cars,” John Goodwin, a spokesperson for that transit agency, tells the Business Times. “Encouraging carpooling is a heavy lift. We are hopeful that partnerships that involve major employers can make it a little bit lighter.”
Taking a casual carpool across the Bay Bridge or with a coworker to the office is one thing, but Waze users picking up the stranger equivalent of hitchhikers seems more unlikely or at least far off.