Is Google's Waze Carpool an Altruistic Alternative to Money-Hungry Uber?

It's the gig economy versus social conscious. 


Waze, a navigation app owned by Google, announced a beta-version launch of its new app in San Francisco yesterday. If Waze is successful, it could set up a ride-share battle between Uber’s UberPool service.

Carpooling has become the next big thing for rideshare companies. Waze, however, is betting on a different approach to carpooling that isn’t driven by professional drivers and monetary gain. The differences may be enough to upset Uber’s stake in the carpool market.

“Here at Waze labs we’ve been looking for new ways to beat rush hour traffic,” a voice with a flashy rich-man accent says in an explainer video for the service. The video has Dr. Seuss-like animation that’s not quite Horton Hears A Who, but it’s close. Notably, the animated cars look rounded and bulbous like Google’s autonomous car.

“We found something astonishing,” the narrator says, getting increasingly tongue in cheek. “It appears the vast majority of cars have more than one seat already built in.”

Snark aside, Waze’s app-based hitchhiking could become serious competition for ride-share behemoth Uber.

Driver payment

With Carpool, Google and Waze want to help drivers and commuters save money, not make money. People with cars have to factor in the costs of gas as well as the wear and tear on their vehicle. People who need rides have to factor in aging (or sometimes nonexistent) public transportation infrastructure. Waze allows people to instead put their commuter money toward someone else’s vehicle, and (theoretically) both sides win.

“Waze Carpool makes it easy to help a neighbor or colleague in your area,” Waze says in a blog post. “Detours are minimal so your drive to work is almost the same, you get to ride in the carpool lane, and the rider you pick up helps cover your commuter costs so why not?”

The main objectives for Carpool is to help clear up traffic by reducing the amount cars on the road. It’s unclear whether Google Waze looks to make any money with the service; the info page for Carpool only says that “riders pitch in for gas.”

This may or may not sound like pure altruism by Google, but it’s a heck of a lot closer to it than Uber’s model. UberPool, which launched in San Francisco in 2014, depends on the company’s contracted drivers instead of car owners. Riders who share a similar route split the cost of the ride, with Uber and the driver charging more than just the cost of gas.

Hopefully Waze rides are less squishy and awkward.


At launch, UberPool stated the addition to the app will be beneficial to drivers as well as riders.

“Currently, drivers get paid while transporting a rider,” Uber says in a 2014 blog post, “but what if you could be paid on the way to picking up riders, too? UberPool fills that gap.”

Stops and starts

Waze limits drivers to two rides a day. It wants people to carpool in the exact same way as they would carpool with a co worker that lives close by, except they want the Waze app to facilitate the carpool.

Limiting drivers is another way the app proves it isn’t aiming to add another job to the gig economy. Additionally, Waze doesn’t do trips with multiple stops.

UberPool’s service counts on multiple stops. It’s not as seamless of a drive, but one of the people in a Waze ride is the driver, so there’s an unfair stop advantage here.

UberPool and its multiple stops.


Future competition

The animation in Waze’s video might hint at something more than just a new way to ride-share. Those little animated minivans could one day reference Google’s self-driving minivans in an autonomous carpool fleet.

Obviously the technology isn’t quite there yet. Google has been working on autonomous cars for years now and recently announced a partnership with Fiat Chrysler, but there’s no set date on when the cars will be available to the public or if the cars will be rolled out for a ride-sharing company.

Uber is reportedly working on its own self-driving cars, but its autonomy could be in more direct competition with Lyft. Lyft and GM stated in March that they will put self-driving cars into their ride-share fleet by 2017.

If Alphabet, Google’s parent company, can pull together its autonomous car and its ride-share investments, it will be that much closer to world domination.

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