You’re Already Benefiting From Smart Cities
Under the Hood gives you an inside look at different parts of how Waze works — straight from the people working on them every day.
Helping people avoid traffic is near and dear to my heart. The day I was born, my parents got stuck in traffic on the way to the hospital. It’s a long story that involves a tractor-trailer, a cement truck, and, eventually, a police escort to the hospital. It all worked out in the end, but let’s just say Waze would’ve been very helpful that day. So perhaps it was my destiny to dedicate my career to helping people navigate safely and easily.
More specifically, I lead our Waze for Cities initiative, which includes a data-sharing partnership between Waze and public sector partners around the world.
What is Waze for Cities?
Through Waze for Cities, we share anonymized data with city officials and transportation agencies, and in turn, they share their data with us. The program started five years ago with just a handful of cities and states, and we now have more than 1,800 partners around the world.
Waze for Cities is changing everything from helping Waze users avoid construction delays to shortening emergency response times to predicting and preventing accidents on the road.
Helping drivers stay ahead of traffic events
Wazers are incredible at adding real-time information to the Waze live map, for example, when roads or exit ramps are closed, and when there are hazards on the road. But Wazers don’t know the construction plans of city or state transportation agencies.
Waze for Cities allows us to give drivers a heads-up about upcoming closures and provide alternate routes. When drivers are alerted and are more conscious driving near roadwork, it keeps everyone safer.
For Wazers, that means if there’s a major traffic event on a road they’ve driven on in the last 90 days, they’ll get an alert ahead of time. They’ll also get real-time updates in the app as things change.
Every two minutes, information from our partners updates in a live feed. If a truck tips over on a ramp and spills juice (or something else), Waze automatically closes the ramp on the map and routes drivers around it. Our map editing community also works with our Waze for Cities partners to mark long-term closures or other updates like bus lanes to make sure drivers have the most current information.
How real-time traffic alerts lead to faster emergency responses
Cities have access to our live incident feed, so they can see what Wazers are reporting on the road and detect unusual traffic alerts. That plays a huge role in how quickly cities can deploy law enforcement and first responders to incidents like crashes or other emergencies.
In a rural area, if the average speed of drivers suddenly drops from 70 mph to 20 mph, that likely signals there’s been some type of accident. In places like Kentucky, first responders are dispatched based on this signal, rather than waiting for confirmation from cameras or a 911 call. Reports from Waze often come four minutes before the first 911 call. That can make a life-changing difference.
This information also gives cities a fuller picture of traffic activity so they can plan for the future. An area with only two police-reported crashes might actually have seven total crashes when you include the five minor fender-benders Wazers reported. Our partners can use this information to prioritize that area and make it safer, whether that’s by fixing a pothole or a traffic light or by adding a new sign to direct traffic.
Responding to natural disasters and other crises
During a crisis, we support any city we can — whether or not it’s in the Waze for Cities program. For major emergencies, our crisis response team works with cities and the Community to keep people informed and help them navigate. If there’s a hurricane, we can set up evacuation zones in the app and alert Wazers. We give people a choice to stay on that route in case they really need to be there, but our goal is always to keep everyone informed with real-time updates.
At the start of COVID-19, our map editors worked together to keep everyone safe and informed. They immediately started adding closures to the map where there were regional lockdowns to discourage people from traveling, and they added food banks and testing sites to the map.
With the help of our partners and input from Wazers, the map becomes a tool that keeps people safe, informed, and ready to react to the situation. These collaborations make cities more responsive to crises — and more resilient in the long run.
Making transportation and mobility more equitable
Data is an important tool for any city. In the case of emergency responses or other crises, it can save lives. But it’s also important to recognize the biases that exist in the tools that cities use.
In cities, these tools could be traffic light cameras that increase surveillance. As urbanist Tamika Butler says, “We have to balance the promise and the potential of a technology with the realities that the people who have been oppressed in this country continue to face.”
Our partners understand that Waze data is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s not the only data transportation agencies use, but it can help paint a clearer picture of what’s happening on the road. Our crowdsourced data is pretty accurate for planning purposes, because it shows where people are actually traveling. That can help cities plan improvements in a way that’s more equitable and based in the realities of where people need to go.
I’m also excited about the role Waze Carpool can play in creating more equitable cities. Pre-pandemic, barely one-quarter of low-wage jobs were accessible by transit within a 90-minute trip. Waze Carpool can be a solution for that. The rider pitches in a little bit to help cover the costs of the driver, the driver reduces their costs, and they both get to work.
The magic of Waze Carpool is millions of drivers are on routes they would take regardless. If you add someone to that trip, you can give someone access to a job opportunity they wouldn’t have otherwise, or take an additional car off the road. It’s an opportunity for Wazers to look out for each other in a bigger way and collaborate to get around their communities — which is really what Waze is all about.