Uber always calls its car-on-demand service “ridesharing,” mostly as a way to get around accusations of running an illegal taxi service. But what if an app that knew millions of people’s destinations started offering actual rideshares for cheap? Enter Google, via its insanely popular navigation app Waze.

Waze Carpool is brutally simple: anyone who wants a ride opens up the Waze Riders app (currently in an invite-only beta). They plug in their destination, and are then matched with any regular Waze user who is already going in that direction. Unlike Uber or Lyft, drivers don’t take requests — the app is the digital equivalent of carpooling to work with colleagues, not taking a taxi.

Presently, the program is in beta for employees of select firms in the Bay Area, and only usable for commuting — Waze Carpool is only active along the Silicon Valley corridor. Riders pay the IRS-recommended 54 cents per mile to pay for gas and vehicle costs, and Waze doesn’t take anything off the top.

Waze isn’t challenging firms like Uber and Lyft directly just yet. Your chances of getting a rideshare home from a bar at 3AM are small, to say the least.

But it’s important to realize what’s at stake here. Millions of people commute with Waze open every single day; thousands of more take inter-city roadtrips with empty car seats. If Waze can start matching up people who take the same journey, it could reduce the number of cars on the road by a serious margin.

Don’t underestimate the power of Waze: the app’s algorithms have the power to change traffic patterns by re-routing drivers. If the company can put a little bit of that data to better use, we could all be winners.

View Comments