Traffic navigation app Waze is shown on a smartphone.
Waze, the navigation app turned ride match-maker, is reportedly expanding its services beyond the San Francisco Bay Area.
Owned by Google, the service puts people and routes together, makes it easy for drivers and riders to communicate and takes care of the financial end of things.
Unlike Uber or Lyft, drivers won’t have a prayer of making a living from the service. Compensation is limited to the IRS approved reimbursement rate of 54 cents a mile, so it’s more about the passenger helping out with expenses and less about paying for a service. That’s an important distinction because it enables Waze to sign-on drivers without having to vet them or conform to other laws and regulations that affect those who drive for hire.
Though I have concerns, I’m happy about this service. The more people who use Waze to carpool, the fewer cars on the road, which is good for our commute and our environment. But, based on published reports, it doesn’t appear Waze is checking drivers’ records. I’m not saying that everyone who drives for Uber, Lyft or a taxi company is necessarily the safest driver or most decent person in the world, but I get some reassurance knowing that they’ve passed at least a minimal driving and background check. Waze has reportedly said that it will rely on user feedback to rate both drivers and passengers.
The app currently is more a commuter tool and less for those who need an occasional ride, such as to an airport or an evening on the town. But it certainly could evolve in that direction. I work at home but occasionally have meetings in San Francisco or other Bay Area cities and it would be nice to get or offer a ride on an occasional basis. I also drive or take a taxi, Lyft or Uber to local airports pretty often and wonder how many people who live near me are making that same trip at roughly the same time.
If the Waze app does morph into occasional non-commute ride sharing, it could have an impact on Uber and Lyft’s fortunes. Otherwise, those ride-hailing companies are likely to continue to do OK. So are their drivers until they are eventually replaced by self-driving cars.
I do, however, worry about Uber and Lyft’s impact on taxi companies and public transportation. While I am concerned about the fate of hard working taxi drivers, the taxi industry made its own bed by being slow to adapt to technology and business changes.
While I appreciate the money I save by taking Uber or Lyft, what I really like about those services is that I don’t have to take out my wallet and fiddle with cash or a credit card at the end of a ride. I love being able to just step out of the car and go about my day. It also reduces the risk of leaving your wallet in the car – and even if that were to happen – the services allow you to contact the driver so you can get your belongings back. Unless you get a receipt with the cab number, there’s no way to know who your driver was, especially if you’re in New York where just about all cabs are yellow.
I have also had some great conversations with ride service drivers and appreciate that the cars are almost always relatively new, clean and comfortable.
The reason I worry about the taxi industry is that there are times when a taxi is a better choice than a ride-hailing service, especially if you’re in a hurry and there’s one nearby. I’ve noticed fewer cabs on the streets of big cities and worry that they will disappear completely. Some cab companies now have apps that let you pay with your phone but – for those of us who travel – they’re not nearly as convenient as the Uber and Lyft apps that work in every city they serve.
I especially enjoy using Uber when traveling outside the United States. For one thing, the app tells the driver where you’re going, which could be a challenge if you don’t speak the language. It also makes sure you’re paying the right price. When I was in Hanoi I was warned to only take “green” cabs to avoid being ripped off but finding them was hard. A Paris cab driver charged me nearly $50 for a short ride that probably should have cost about $10. Grabbing a cab in Istanbul is like playing Russian roulette with your wallet. I never could figure out which type of cab in Baku, Azerbaijan was least likely to overcharge.
My biggest concern about the apps is the potential impact on public transportation. My wife and I recently paid less for an Uber pool from one part of Oakland to another, than if we bought two BART tickets. I frequently visit New York but almost never use that city’s excellent subway and bus service because Uber pool is almost as cheap and potentially cheaper if you’re with someone.
Like health insurance, public transportation will only be affordable if it’s either heavily subsidized or heavily used by a wide swath of the population, which has traditionally been true in many metropolitan areas. But if well-heeled commuters are using ride services or company provided busses, it means fewer people helping to pay for the public services that many lower income riders rely on.
Having said that, I’m still a big fan of these services. I love their advantages but I think it’s important to also consider and address their potential unintended consequences.