For the estimated 50 million people who rely on it, the turn-by-turn navigation app Waze helps redirect users around traffic jams, accidents and other obstacles on the road.
Now Waze, with a new expansion into ridesharing, is hoping to guide itself around some of the thorniest issues facing the industry.
The Israeli-founded, Google-owned app is now offering to connect people who are headed in the same direction during their commutes. Headed into work? Grab a ride with someone with a spare car seat. If you're eager to try it, though, hold on: The new feature is debuting in Tel Aviv for now as a pilot project only — though non-Waze users can also join the fun with a separate app called RideWith.
Unlike Uber, Google's entry into ridesharing will be more limited. You won't be able to just call up a ride wherever you are; according to Haaretz, drivers will only be able to offer two rides a day, and they have to begin either near where they work or near where they live.
Drivers also can't earn much of a profit from participating in the program. At best, riders will be able to pay a small amount of money to help offset wear and tear, gasoline and other ordinary expenses associated with car ownership. In other words, people won't be giving up their day jobs anytime soon to become drivers for Waze.
Despite all these restrictions, it's easy to imagine Waze's expansion someday becoming a full-on ridesharing service that competes with Uber. Although Google was an early investor in Uber, the two companies have drifted apart as both have seen the lucrative potential of the ridesharing market. Uber has taken Google head-on in the race to build a working self-driving car, for instance, in preparation for Uber's eventual transformation into a global logistics and delivery platform.
For now, though, Google's early limitations for Waze appear aimed at avoiding some of the regulatory struggles that's beset Uber around the globe. Uber suspended its low-cost ridesharing service, UberPop, in France over the weekend after authorities clamped down on Uber execs there. In Israel, government officials have vowed to defend traditional taxi drivers against companies like Uber. This could wind up being a good thing for Waze as its carpooling service seeks to gain traction.
More broadly, Waze's expansion is a sign of what Google has in mind for the app worldwide, which it bought for roughly $1 billion in 2013. The deal initially allowed Google to capitalize on Waze's crowd-sourced mapping data (users can alert other drivers to traffic cameras, fender-benders and other incidents by marking them on the map). But it now appears that Waze is going to become a platform unto itself — which makes sense, considering previous reports about Google being interested in entering the ridesharing market.