Jefferson Graham USA TODAY
Published 11:00 AM EDT Oct 10, 2019
Waze, the Google-owned car pool app, thought it could help curb traffic congestion by showing drivers quicker, alternate routes around town.
But that didn’t happen.
Today, on the first anniversary of its ambitious car pool program, Waze CEO Noam Bardin has come to the conclusion that having riders share their cars is the only solution.
“Traffic is getting worse and will continue to get worse,” he says. “We have to stop driving alone.”
Some 75% of us are alone in our cars on the road, and if that could change, “you’d start to see an impact.”
Waze projects that in its first year, some 1 million people signed up to car pool via its stand-alone Waze Carpool smartphone app.
“It’s going well, but changing behavior is very hard,” he says. “We’re all sitting in traffic at the same time, at the same speed, and we’re all stuck. This is a problem that affects all of us equally. We’re just asking people to make a small commitment to change.”
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With the Waze Carpool app, you type in your ZIP code to find local neighbors who live within a block or two from you and are willing to have you ride along with them to work. Unlike traditional ride-hailing apps like Uber or Lyft, you're not guaranteed a ride.
A neighbor has to be willing to pick you up and be available to leave at similar times. In a test of the app for this article, for a Monday morning pickup between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. in a suburb of Los Angeles, no driver has yet to raise a hand.
In an ideal world, riders would all work in the same corporate building and thus leave at similar times and all be headed to the same location, says Bardin.
Folks who are interested in driving the passengers need to register in the Waze navigation app, at the bottom right of the main screen, under Carpool.
“The No. 1 challenge for us is how do we get them to do it the first time, he says.
Riders ask what would happen if they didn't like the driver, what if they didn't feel like talking, and who is this stranger I’m getting into a car with?
Unlike some of the horror stories of riders (and drivers) reporting rapes and assaults by the strangers they are in a car with in Lyft and Uber rides, for the Waze car pool rides, you are going with a neighbor, and you know where the person lives.
“You’re in control of who you’re riding with,” says Bardin. “You can ride only with your gender, or only from people who work in your building. It’s up to you. The service is you and a small number of people sharing rides. This is not for you coming home from a bar drunk. It’s a community transit service.”
Drivers won’t make money offering rides, but instead break even, Bardin says. “It covers the cost of gas and wear and tear.” The charge is 58 cents per mile.
Waze, which operates under the Google banner as an independent unit from Israel, has found the most success for car pools in the San Francisco Bay area, followed by Dallas, Texas and Brazil, Bardin says.
“There is a way to win this,” he says. “It will take change of behavior, but it can be done.”
But Bardin has a huge challenge ahead of him. Despite being out for a year, a quick check of the Waze Carpool app on the current Top 100 downloads for Apple's iOS and Google Play found no ranking. The Waze app itself is No. 69 on the iOS chart and No. 85 on Google Play.
Follow USA TODAY's Jefferson Graham on Twitter, @jeffersongraham