Deepening its commitments to transportation and automotive technology, Google will soon begin testing a carpool coordination service in Israel for users of its Waze navigation app.
The service, called RideWith, is designed to connect people who drive a regular route to work with people who live along or near the commute route and need a ride. It is being offered as an opt-in service through the Waze app to selected drivers in parts of Tel Aviv, Israel, where the Waze team is based, and to passengers through a separate RideWith app.
"We are conducting a small, private beta test in Tel Aviv for a carpool concept," said Julie Mossler, spokesperson for Waze, in an emailed statement. "Waze regularly experiments with new ideas in our backyard, and we have nothing specific to announce at this time."
In a blog post, Waze says that RideWith requires a balance of drivers and riders in a specific geographic area, which may limit opportunities to participate in the pilot test. Waze says it plans to make its service available to interested users in the pilot test area when it can provide the quality of service the team projects.
RideWith isn't intended to compete directly with car-hiring services like Uber, in which Google has invested over $250 million, or with car-rental services like RelayRides, in which Google has also invested. Rather, it's one of several complementary transportation-oriented platforms, including self-driving cars, backed by the company.
In one way, RideWith is like Uber: Waze asserts that RideWith drivers are not employees. That's an argument Uber continues to make, despite a court finding to the contrary. However, RideWith's limited focus appears to make its position more tenable.
Vehicles offer technology companies a chance to sell hardware and software, to gather data, and to create useful services. Google sees vehicles as hardware that can host its software (Android Auto), as mobile devices that can collect and transmit data (geographic and otherwise), and as a way to deliver products and ads.
The company also recognizes vehicles as an opportunity to enhance public welfare -- legacy transportation technology creates so many social and environmental challenges that any improvement also enhances the innovator. By characterizing RideWith as a way to reduce one's carbon footprint and help the environment, Google presents itself as a responsible corporate citizen.
RideWith calculates a Pitch In fee for passengers based on the estimated cost of fuel and vehicle depreciation for the distance travelled. RideWith drivers can accept or refuse the fee prior to picking up the passenger. Drivers are limited to booking two rides per day and to keep usage focused on carpools to and from work. The RideWith terms of service prohibit providing other services (like package delivery) to RideWith users.
The Pitch In fee is billed automatically upon trip completion. Waze intends to take a commission -- 15%, according to Israeli news organization Haaretz -- from the payment, which will be handled by a third-party payment processor rather than by Waze or Google.
If the RideWith pilot test goes well, Google may later extend the service to other countries.Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio