When money is not the issue

Two years after buying Waze, we finally have a formal announcement of what it intends to do with this delightful social GPS project that has continued working exactly the same, and that has become the supplier of real-time data traffic for Google Maps: a car-pooling application that allows people taking the same route to share their vehicle, and that is being pilot tested in Israel, the country where Waze was created and where it is most popular.

The idea, which seems similar to other sharing services, is different in that there is no financial gain involved for users: it is simply about sharing the costs for a car trip. Google’s restrictions are aimed at safeguarding this key aspect: drivers can only take two trips a day, which typically would be to and from work, and cannot make money from this, instead charging a small amount based on the distance to cover running costs.

The app, called RideWith, hooks people up with others taking the same or similar routes. Obviously, a certain critical mass is necessary if the app is to take off, which is why the pilot scheme in Israel is in just three locations, known for the large number of journeys taken during rush hour. People who want a trip put their home and work addresses into the system, as well as the time they intend to make their trip.

Drivers who are taking the same route or close to it will be contacted and if they choose to share their journey, they notify the other person through the app. Payment is through the app as well, which suggests an amount based on running costs and gas, with Google charging 15 percent of this as commission. The company has already been using it for its employees in Tel Aviv.

We might reasonably ask why somebody would drive another person to work if they aren’t going to make any money out of it. Everything suggests that Google’s plans for Waze is to highlight the social aspect. If this is really going to work, then while it is possible to appeal to people’s desire to limit pollution and traffic, and to help others, it is still absolutely essential that the technology works faultlessly.

In the case of other, similar applications, we have seen cases of drivers trying to make money out of supposedly sharing their vehicle by making several trips a day, knowing that on certain routes they are always going to find a passenger. In the case of Google’s application, the idea seems instead to be simply to make better use of our cars.

With no money to be made, it will be very interesting to see what the take up is, and in which countries it proves most successful.


(En español, aquí)

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