Haaretz Exclusive: Google's Waze to Launch Worldwide Carpooling Pilot in Israel

The service, RideWith, matches up passengers and drivers who want to get to work.

Sergey Brin and Waze
Google co-founder Sergey Brin, left, paid good money for the Israeli navigation app Waze. But does this trickle down to the common Israeli-in-the-street? Bloomberg

There has been talk for quite some time of how Google can be expected to enter the field of transportation. This week, Google will reveal its global plan here in Israel. The Internet giant will launch the first pilot project of its kind for carpooling to work and back, based on the Waze app and another app, called RideWith, that will be offered beginning this week.

Initially, the new service will be tested only in Israel and, in accordance with the results of the pilot study, it will be tweaked and duplicated for cities in other countries. It has been developed by the developers of Waze, the Israeli navigation application that Google bought two years ago.

RideWith will link up passengers who want to get to their workplaces with drivers making a similar trip. The number of trips drivers are able to make is limited to two a day, and only from their home neighborhoods to their workplaces. The passenger will pay the driver a nominal fare for the trip, as determined by the distance, and the service is built in such a way that drivers will not be able to transform it into a business, but will only receive compensation for the time and the gas they use to provide transportation for an additional passenger in their car.

Initially, the pilot will be limited to three cities – Tel Aviv, Ra’anana and Herzliya, with the intention of enabling workers who live in Tel Aviv and work in the high-tech areas of Ra’anana and Herzliya to get together in the morning on their way to work and again in the evening on their way home. In addition, at the request of Senior Citizen Affairs Minister Gila Gamliel, who is responsible for the Digital Israel Project, the service will also be available to students at Tel Aviv University. Depending on the demand that is created and the success of the pilot, Google will gradually expand the service elsewhere in Israel.

How it works

The service will be based on a combination of the two applications. RideWith will be uploaded to the Google Play app store, at this stage only for Israeli users who have Android phones. Passengers who want to share a ride will have to enter the addresses of their homes and their workplaces and the times they wish to travel. The application will match them up with a driver who follows the required route at the desired times by means of Waze, which will send the relevant driver an alert asking whether he is willing to pick up passengers. The alert will be sent only to relevant drivers, whose route to work is known on Waze to overlap with the passenger’s. If indeed a driver is found who is prepared for the shared ride, the passenger who has requested the ride will receive prior confirmation. In addition, the passenger will be able to look at the driver’s route in advance and in real time.

The match will be made in a way that requires of the driver minimum deviation from his usual route. The driver and the passenger will be able to set up the ride in advance, so that the passenger will know, at least by the evening before, that the next morning he will not need his own car or public transportation. The ride home will be set up in a similar way. The driver and the passenger will be able to contact each other before the ride by means of the text messaging system in the application. To maintain the privacy of the sides, Google will not reveal their full communication information and they will be free to disclose their identity themselves. Google will ascertain, using the sides’ email addresses, that these are people who work in the same geographical area.

In line with the agreement between driver and passenger, payment will be made for the ride. It will be possible to make the payment by means of the app, but the amount will be limited. Google will propose a recommended price according to the distance of the shared ride, but it will also set a maximum price. The recommended price will depend on the cost of maintaining an automobile as listed by the Heshev company. In 2014, the overall cost was about 2.10 shekels (56 cents) per kilometer. The price recommended by Google for a ride from Tel Aviv to Herzliya will be 13 shekels ($3.46). Transfer of the money from the passenger to the driver will be done by means of the application. Google is expected to take a fee of 15 percent from the price of the ride and this in effect is the new income model for Waze.

Many companies have been trying to deal with the issue of enabling their employees to share rides in order to save gas and the expenses of keeping a car. Recently the Environmental Protection Ministry inaugurated a similar application called Gov.PickUp for rides shared by government employees. Google will offer a uniform platform based on the Waze app, enabling employees of a given company to share rides among themselves. Payment for the ride is optional and it will be possible to use for free. Thus, workplaces will people to organize carpools for their employees.

At Google they decided to launch ridesharing pilot in Tel Aviv because of the widespread use of Waze in Israel. Sources close to Waze estimate that about 200,000 employees in Israel carpool to work and most of them are concentrated in the area of Gush Dan. The timetable for setting up the service in other countries is not yet known. In the current phase the ridesharing service will not be offered as part of Google Maps.

Competition?

For a number of years now Google has been developing a driverless automatic car and it was thought that its intention was to exploit that technology to offer cheap or even free rides by means of a fleet of cars that drive themselves. The RideWith service that will be launched in Tel Aviv indicates that Google is not about to enter the field of companies like Uber and Lyft, at least not at present. In response to the assessment that it would enter into competition with those companies, Waze declared last week: “We think Uber X and Lyft are services that work well. We ourselves use them all the time.”

Apart from the commercial aim, that is – creating income for Waze, Google is hoping the ridesharing app will enable a decrease in the number of vehicles on the roads as well as save money for many workers who will be able to give up keeping a car altogether. Today, after the considerable increase in the usage value of a vehicle and the extent of the tax an employee pays for a leased car, many high tech workers are choosing not to take this benefit and have gone over to owning a car. From their perspective, ridesharing could save a considerable monthly expense. For the driver, it could provide additional income– though not significant income, especially for highly paid workers. Thus, the success of the service is based mainly on the drivers’ good will and readiness to provide rides to work for their colleagues.

The RideWith model is different from the GetTaxi, Uber and Lyft services but it is expected to compete with them. The three taxi services are encountering significant regulatory barriers, as in many countries training and licensing are required for providers of transportation services. Uber X is arousing the most opposition, as it enables owners of private cars to provide cab services, even on a causal basis. In the nature of things, most of the opposition from licensed cab drivers who fear for their livelihood. In many countries, among them France, Belgium and Holland, the regulators have come down on the side of taxi drivers and for the moment have stopped the Uber X service.

In Israel, Uber launched its activity at the end of August, 2014. In November of 2014 the company tested a pilot of Uber X for 48 hours. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz made his position known and clarified that he intends to protect the taxi drivers and will not allow Uber X in Israel, but Uber is expected to pursue a regulatory battle to enable the service here. RideWith is not expected to encounter regulatory barriers as the application enables cooperative transportation without the private driver being able to transform it into a profitable business activity.