Google's Waze to launch carpooling app experiment in Israel

Google's satellite navigation system, Waze, has been a huge hit in Israel. Will its carpooling app succeed, too? 

Virginia Mayo/AP/File
The Google logo is seen at the Google headquarters in Brussels, March 23, 2010.

Known for its aggressive drivers and high incidence of traffic accidents, Israel has never been an easy place to get around. But the Google-owned online mapping company Waze may have a solution to that problem, and it comes in the form of a new carpooling app.   

On Monday, Waze announced that it is set to launch a pilot program for carpooling that will allow commuters to pay fellow drivers a small fee to take them to and from work. The program, based on a new app called Ride With, will use Waze’s satellite navigation system to match users and drivers who take the same routes to and from work every day. The company does not expect there to be enough drivers to meet demand immediately, but if the app does catch on it could help to reduce the number of cars on the road.

“Initially, the pilot will be limited to three cities – Tel Aviv, Ra’anana and Herzliya, with the intention of enabling workers who live in Tel Aviv and work in the high-tech areas of Ra’anana and Herzliya to get together in the morning on their way to work and again in the evening on their way home,” Haaretz reported.

"Depending on the demand that is created and the success of the pilot, Google will gradually expand the service elsewhere in Israel"

Waze was originally invented in 2012 by an Israeli commuter and software designer, Ehud Shabtai, who was  sick of navigating the country’s many traffic jams and other road hazards with just traditional GPS services. Instead, Waze crowdsources its information by using satellite technology to track users’ phones as they travel, providing real time information about traffic flows. Waze has the ability to differentiate when a user is waiting at a stoplight and when he or she is stuck in traffic, and users can even alert others to an accident with the touch of a screen.

The company, which was acquired by Google for around $1 billion in 2013, is a huge hit among Israelis. An estimated 90 percent of Israeli drivers use Waze, a company representative told the Washington Post

“Newcomers to Israel are advised by friends — and complete strangers — to immediately download the app,” the Post reported in 2013.

“ ‘Waze it’ has replaced ‘Google it’ as a shorthand for getting driving instructions."   

But despite (or perhaps because of) their  popularity, ride sharing services have been getting a lot of flak in recent months. In late June, violent clashes disrupted cities across France as taxi drivers protested Uber, which allows users with smartphones to connect with nearby drivers and save on the costs of traditional taxis. Meanwhile, many countries around the world have banned Uber completely due to complaints about unfair competition.   

Waze officials, however, seem to have thought about this potential problem already. Drivers using the Ride With app will not be permitted to earn a salary, and they will  be limited to providing just two rides per day. Instead, users who wish to avoid taking their own cars to work can chip in to pay for their drivers’ gas and car maintenance, while the drivers can save gas money on trips they would take anyway.

Both Uber and Lyft have also experimented with ride share options, but those services still permit a driver to earn a salary by allowing multiple users to split the cost of a regular ride.

Waze’s new program more highly resembles that of the British company, which connects drivers and passengers who have the same destination and allows them to share just the cost of the ride itself. In the United States, the startup Carma Carpool also allows commuters to share rides just to and from work. These companies have marketed themselves as being even more cost effective than Uber or Lyft.

The new carpooling pilot program is Google’s first foray into the world of ride shares. The Ride With app will be available to Israeli users with an Android phone through the Google play app store.

If the program is a success, the company will look into bringing the app to other parts of the world. 

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