Google Takes the Driver’s Seat

By Denise Konkol on September 4, 2016

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 wazeeasier. 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.

That adding a place via Waze started mere months after the purchase by Google is no coincidence. Users can get a business listed, and you can claim your business there as well. The added traffic (pun intended) to a Waze Carpool app is no doubt going to push the data even further, so establishing your business through local SEO is beyond a good idea.
Drivers eager to save money, feel good and do Google a solid in the meantime can sign up to be notified when the ride sharing service app is available in their neck of the woods. Whether riders are comfortable with sharing a ride to work with someone without a background check is yet to be determined, however the pilot market has already indicated its approval.
The Bay Area has an organic ride-sharing program known as casual carpool around East Bay and Oakland that has people lining up at 20 different spots so drivers can roll up and take at least three riders into the city for no charge. The benefit to the driver is a reduced toll over the bridge for doing so. The success of Waze Carpool here might already be assured given the nature of this other program, or it could serve to dilute the impact. What isn’t going to be dilute is the impact to Lyft or Uber, which after fighting many battles to gain legitimacy in the market, will have a larger one to fight to maintain any market.

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