Waze, the navigation app owned by Google, announced today a new carpool service in San Francisco. The new service is by invitation only "to a select group of employers and their employees in the Bay Area," Waze says. But if it grows popular, it could put Google in direct competition with ride-hailing giants like Uber and Lyft.
The process of arranging a ride isn't easy: it takes two different apps. Select employees interested in hitching a ride through Waze can use the new rider app to find a driver. Meanwhile, drivers use the regular Waze app to find riders. "Coordination, communication and payment are automatically handled through the apps," Waze says in a blog post.
"Waze Carpool connects riders and drivers with nearly identical commutes based on their home and work addresses," the company says. "Thanks to Waze advanced mapping capabilities, the platform connects carpool partners from the same local community, making it easy to carpool with neighbors and colleagues you know or haven’t met yet."
Carpooling is all the rage these days, especially in San Francisco, where both Uber and Lyft are experimenting with different pilots. Lyft is using non-professional drivers to test its own version of "casual carpooling," while Uber has expanded its Uber Pool service to Oakland, Berkeley, and Alameda, in a bid to appeal to residents who want to commute to work in San Francisco.
It's an eyebrow raising move by Google
It's an eyebrow-raising move by Google, not only because it puts the tech giant on a collision course with Uber and Lyft, but also for its implications for Google's other mobility efforts. The company is actively testing its self-driving cars in three cities, and has already racked up over a million miles in autonomous driving. If Waze's carpooling service is successful and expands to other cities, it's not difficult to see Google using it as a platform on which to launch a fully commercialized, on-demand driverless car service.
But it's also an example on how complicated things can get for these giant Silicon Valley companies, especially when it comes to the fast-growing transportation market. Back in 2013, Google's venture capital subsidiary invested $285 million in Uber, which back then was only valued at $3.7 billion. (It is now worth $62.5 billion.) Of course, Uber has many investors. And it was probably only a matter of time before Google got involved in some version of on-demand transportation.