Alphabet – Google’s parent company – has begun a pilot carpooling program in San Francisco, allowing drivers to connect with commuters via community based traffic and navigation app Waze. Any local Waze user can sign up as a driver in the pilot, although ridership is limited to employees of large San Francisco-based companies, including Google, Wal-Mart, and Adobe Systems; riders are allowed two rides a day. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, the service will expand later this fall, allowing anyone to become a Waze driver or rider.
Rather than operating as a taxi on-demand, the Waze service connects drivers headed in the same direction, and Alphabet has said that fares are designed to be low in order to discourage drivers from doing it for profit. The program charges $0.54 per mile, with all of the money going to the drivers – a fare that the company has said should cover the cost of fuel. ($0.54 per mile is the sum that the IRS recommends that companies reimburse employees for business-related travel).
In 2013, Google acquired the Israeli-based app Waze, which offers real-time driving directions to commuters. The Waze carpool service, which was launched in Israel last year, is now available in most parts of Israel. Waze currently has 65 million users providing crowd-sourced alerts to other users.
The launch of the service brings Alphabet in direct competition with Uber and Lyft. Although Uber and Google were not competitors in the past, (and Uber drivers continue to use Google maps for navigation), recent developments have brought the two companies head-to-head. In June, Uber announced the launch of its own mapping program. Both companies are also working to develop self-driving cars – an area that Google pioneered in 2009, with Uber announcing plans to test its self-driving taxis in Pittsburgh last month.