Since the start of the year, I’ve put my trust in the hands of the crowd.
More precisely, the crowd of daily commuters who use an app called Waze. Waze blends turn-by-turn navigation with reports from the people who use it, offering real-time updates from the road.
For the past couple weeks, I have commuted to and from work by solely relying on Waze’s advice. This has not been easy for me. I like to think I’ve developed a sort of sixth sense about commuting in Washington, honed by hours — and hours and hours — of trial and error.
Over the years, I’ve learned which radio traffic reporters are reliable and which ones are buffoons. I’ve figured out if Interstate 95 is a bottleneck one day, it will almost assuredly be clear sailing the next, as all those caught in the mess the day before will have vowed never to trespass its pavement again. (Or at least until their latest route becomes bogged down).
I know there is one immutable law of traffic: If it rains, no amount of intuition or divine providence will provide relief. A 50-minute commute will take much, much longer, and no route goes unspared. I hate rain.
But I digress.
Each morning, I pull out of my garage, fire up Waze, and let it choose the fastest route. In two weeks, or 10 commutes back and forth, I’ve traveled by eight different paths. It has guided me on ways I would never voluntarily travel, such as over the 11th Street Bridge at rush hour. And yet, I’ve never made better time.
As much as I appreciate the navigation, I admire the diligence of my fellow drivers. I’m sure I would have hit a pothole or two if not for their warnings, converted to audible alerts, about hazards ahead. I’ve avoided speed traps and red-light cameras. I even got a heads up about a mangled bed frame in the middle of the road. Whew!
Waze isn’t perfect, particularly in navigating neighborhood streets, where experience has taught me to override a command or two. But in greater Washington, we’re blessed with a large enough concentration of Waze users that the data is mostly meaningful. At my desk in D.C. now, I see there are 7,107 Wazers nearby, who have filed 1,405 reports.
Google bought Waze last summer for about $1 billion. Last week, Google bought Nest Labs, maker of those “smart” programmable thermostats, for $3.2 billion. If you ask me, the Internet giant is acquiring a lot of data, from a pretty big crowd.
Watch out for that pothole!
Lane blocked ahead!
This way is quicker.