Google’s wayfinding company wants to help drivers and riders find each other on its navigation app—and ease traffic congestion along the way.
They came to our WeWork. And they brought us tacos.
That’s how Waze Carpool convinced just over a hundred mostly young professionals at my shared workplace in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown to download their new ride-sharing app. Bearing free lunches and promotional goodies, teams from the Google-owned company have been making the rounds at workplaces and campuses around the country to nudge young people into sharing rides on the way to work. The wayfinding app’s carpooling spinoff service has been live nationwide since last October, but convincing Americans to buddy up on their commute has been something of a challenge.
While Uber and Lyft have made point-to-point chauffeured trips relatively cheap and easy (for now), their shared options—UberPool and Lyft Line—haven’t quite cracked the true carpool puzzle. While those rides allow strangers to ride together for reduced price, they also involve picking people up from different parts of town, a model that isn’t exactly suited for the rush-hour race to work. (Lyft ditched its more traditional carpool option after a Bay Area pilot back in 2016, when Waze Carpool was in its initial pilot). Today, only about 7 percent of American commuters carpool to work. Back in the late 1970s, about 20 percent of American workers shared their ride to work, urged on by OPEC’s gas hikes and a promotional boost from President Jimmy Carter. Now gas is cheap, but cities face some more urgent incentives, in the form of the climate crisis and the congestion costs of ever-spiraling urban traffic.
Waze sees carpooling as a natural extension of its crowd-powered navigation app, which integrates information on traffic and road conditions from users into its directions. And getting more people to pool could help the company build some political goodwill: In some communities, rather than a force for busting traffic, Waze has been blamed for directing heaps of cars down residential streets and for creating every-driver-for-themselves Hobbesian map-made gridlock. “Routing people through traffic becomes really challenging to do when you have this many people on the road,” says Josh Fried, the head of Waze Carpool. “We needed to do something to start taking cars off the road in order to fulfill our promise of helping people get where they’re going quickly.”
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