Lately I’ve been asked how we consider the wants and needs of drivers against our product roadmap and company mission, specifically regarding how we route and why. It feels like a good time to clarify both the corporate values and technical basics of Waze, and the framework in which we make product decisions and navigate our responsibilities to citizens, municipalities, and partners to keep cities moving.
Who We Are
Waze began with a mission to save drivers five minutes on every drive, pioneering real-time navigation with data from drivers to update traditional GPS systems. We believed, and still do, that people living locally care about their neighborhoods and know best what’s going on right now. Our mission is to empower them to share that knowledge (a new road opened in your neighborhood, you see a hazard on the road, an intersection is flooded) and Waze will update everyone else around you.
What We Do
Some technical basics:
- The Waze map reflects cities as they are, not the way someone wishes them to be. If a road is public, it will be used within reason to help spread ‘knots’ of congestion throughout open spaces of the grid of a city.
- Our maps are built by a community of local volunteers. How is it possible for us to know every road on Earth at every time of day? The Waze team is grateful to be supported by 500,000 volunteer map editors (similar to Wikipedia). They are a critical human layer — people who care so much about their community that they manage, update and change their local map. Every day, editors verify your reports to amend the map when required, in as fast as 24 hours. These editors created maps where no maps were available and sit with our partners to ensure Waze is among first responders in a crisis. (Anyone can become an editor.)
- Our traffic data is contributed by users of the Waze app — passively from people driving with the app open (they contribute their GPS data anonymously) and actively by people reporting incidents as they see them (e.g., a hazard on the road) as well as from many other sources of municipal data which I’ll detail below.
- Our routing algorithm is a combination of machine learning and human refinement — we take into account all the data we have and try to find the most “cost-effective” route, taking into account roads, historic and real-time speeds, incidents, road types, map quality, and multiple other inputs. The goal of the algorithm is to find the best balance between speed, safety, and “hassle” (e.g., getting on and off the highway to save 10 seconds).
- All Wazers are equal — we serve to the best of our knowledge and ability to help everyone equally and with respect. We do not have special preferences for me, for specific users, or anyone else.
Over the last 10 years, we’ve operated from a sense of civic responsibility within our means — realizing the opportunity in amassing deep crowdsourced information was to share insights across different types of partners to improve the communities we all live in. Waze has a history of building free tools and programs that have defined transportation industry standards, like Connected Citizens Program (CCP) which powers strategic insight for over 600 departments of transportation and municipalities globally, and our Broadcast Program which helps the media report live from the road. I’m proud to say that we’ve built a company genuinely rooted in serving the greater good… and ten years and 100 million users later, we try and make decisions that honor our commitment to these many communities. We fund the company through advertising which allows us to offer our services for free to partners and also keeps us focused on our users: if people stop using Waze we have no way to pay the bills.
So Why Can’t We Just Remove A Road From Our Map?
When neighborhood bodies have asked us to remove or cease routing through specific roads, our position has been consistent: local government has the authority and responsibility to set driving laws and restrictions, but Waze does not. If the local government decides on a specific speed limit, one-way traffic designation or new turn restriction, our editors will update the Waze map to reflect that. If the governing body deems the road as public and navigable, we will use it for routing as needed for the good of everyone.
Our algorithms are neutral to the value of the real estate, the infrastructure cost to maintain the roads or the wishes of the locals. Waze will utilize every public road available considering variables such as road type and current flow, and keep the city moving.
If a road is too steep, narrow or unsound, it is local governments responsibility to fix it or change the driving restrictions around it. If there is a temporary hazard, such as flooding or a road blocked, Waze is the best place to report this and warn other drivers.
We maintain two-way communication with city planners, and this collaboration happens daily. The CCP program has grown from 4 to 600 partners in less than four years, providing a much-needed ecosystem of free, shareable data and a forum for our government leaders to network and share strategies to combat the challenges of congestion. Boston DOT has already seen congestion reduction of 18%. And in LA, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (since 2014) and Los Angeles Department of Transportation (2015) have had access to customized Waze data feeds that enable them to make strategic planning decisions and improve existing infrastructure. Waze also partners with the LA Clippers, LA Galaxy, LA Rams, and LA Chargers to improve the fan experience on game day as they navigate to/from their stadiums.
It’s also important to note that our Connected Citizens Program regularly supports disaster relief and one of the largest EMT/ambulance providers in North America off the same map. Removing a street could make a difference in arriving on time to save a life or successfully evacuating during a crisis.
It’s on all of us.
We are one of three leading navigation apps and there are many different in-car navigation systems. We do not “control” traffic in any way but rather try and do the best with what infrastructure exists. We have a responsibility to be thoughtful about how we get you home as well as your experience in the car. This is something we’ve been dedicated to with the development of features like Roadside Help, our Child Reminder for hot days, and the restriction of left hand turns. We will continue to deliver an even better experience the next time you drive.
We can always improve — and the fastest way to help us is to receive reports from you as you navigate with Waze. Simply say “OK Waze” to leave a comment for other drivers or give feedback on a route. Passengers can also do this with a few taps on the map. Or become a map editor and share your knowledge of your own commute.
Fundamentally, the problem of traffic congestion is our addiction with driving our own cars, alone. There are too many cars and not enough roads, no algorithms can solve this fundamental problem of modern life. We believe that the only rational long term solution is to take cars off the roads and share the empty seats in our car more effectively.
I’m personally optimistic by the shift happening in transportation — the move from car ownership to transportation as a service. But all of these great new technologies (self driving cars, flying cars, underground tunnels, ridesharing, van-shares etc) will not fundamentally solve our road congestion unless we can get more people into each one of them and thus less cars on the road.
This is the next evolution of Waze. We are working on building software and educating users to Carpool and share their rides. We believe that by Carpooling, we can actually make a change in congestion, instead of trying to shift the traffic within limited capacity. The congestion problems are due to all of us driving, alone, at the same time. If we all make a small change in our behavior, sharing our ride, we can actually defeat traffic, together.