Beta testing in Israel, Waze’s new carpooling app shows some promise with a nice side of caveats. Here’s what we saw after testing it out
In July, Waze introduced its new ride-sharing service RideWith, which will enable drivers to receive payments for taking passengers in their cars. With the launch of the pilot program, Geektime is offering you an exclusive first look at how it works, riding shotgun and from behind the wheel.
On the passenger side, trying to holla
Going through the RideWith app (Hebrew), it has a lot of the same functionality of Gett (Israel’s version of Uber). However, the service only allows pickup and drop-off around your home or work. You can enter a time range for pickup, so the more flexible you are, the higher your chance of finding a ride.
If you find someone willing to pick you up, you’ll be asked to designate a “participation fee,” which is a maximum amount you’re willing to pay. RideWith’s algorithm will calculate an actual price based on the distance traveled and how far out of the way your driver has to drive to get you.
Once the algorithm correlates between locale and time, it sends an alert to potential drivers. If the driver approves, you’ll get a notification and be able to SMS the driver to follow up on the nitty gritty details — a useful feature when you’re coordinating last minute information. You’ll also get notices about how far away the driver is.
From the driver’s side, holla’ing back
A driver will get a “ride request” notification with the passenger’s name and how long they’ve been using Waze. Beyond that, you’ll get more details with the glaring exception of the person’s email and phone. If they sign up with Facebook or shared a work email, then you can get this information, but the app does not require it. You can also only chat with the potential passenger once you approve the ride.
In addition to a notification saying how far you have to go and how long it will take, RideWith will also tell you how much the ride is worth — pretty sweet (in this case it was NIS 14.79).
Having used the app for a few weeks, I can say that none of them really worked out in terms of schedule and location. I was pretty psyched when I finally got a request I could accommodate.
I confirmed the trip with “Eyal” and when I went to pick him him up, it turned out he wasn’t far away from home. About half an hour before I went to get him, I got a reminder and directions from Waze. When I got there, I pressed a button confirming the “passenger is in the car,” and we were off.
That “Eyal” by the way was none other than Eyal Katz, the manager of marketing company AdNgin (you’re welcome, link-builders), who was also using the service for the first time. On any other day, he’d be using the train and an electric bike, but given the rain, he thought he’d give the app a go. We started chatting and were happy to realize that both of our offices were located in the same building! That neither of us turned out to be a serial killer was also a serious boon.
As for the cash
During our conversation, we realized something interesting about the payment. Although I was promised NIS 14.79, Google had registered the highest amount it would take from Eyal at NIS 8.70. In other words, Google seems to be subsidizing the rides. Of course, once the service goes alpha, RideWith will likely not subsidize the trip and might even raise its fees. At the moment, the deal seems pretty sweet from both perspectives: The driver gets part of his gas covered and the passenger gets a taxi service for the price of a bus.
As the conversation went along, discussing whether there is a startup bubble or isn’t a tech bubble (shameless plugs), we realized we had arrived. The app asked Eyal to confirm that he had arrived and his payment. On my side, I had a choice between a green like button and red dislike button. If you encounter an issue with a passenger or driver, you can fill out a form to let RideWith know what the problem was.
The passenger pays Google directly with the account you enter when you register. Payments are based on your bill from the previous month, with a NIS 100 minimum. At the moment, the service is only available in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and the nearby suburb pf Modi’in, and there are still no details about when it’s going to be released globally.
Will users start subsidizing their income with RideWith like drivers do with Uber?
If you’re starting to rub your hands together thinking you’re going to score some moolah, don’t get too excited. Google’s implemented a number of restrictions that keep drivers from turning it into a sustainable source of income. First, you can only take passengers from places close to your home and drop them off within the vicinity of your office. Secondly, you’re limited to two passengers a day.
In other words, this ain’t Uber helping the middle class.
And then there’s Google
There’s no doubt that once it makes it out of beta, it will be one of the more intriguing projects in transportation. This is a product that could interest millions of American drivers who already carpool, as well as bring decent profits from fees to the two companies. Google has chosen Israel as its practice grounds to test the service because Israel is a small country with rather severe transportation issues, insufficient public infrastructure, and major market penetration by Waze.
However, RideWith faces some obstacles. It’s not easy convincing users, especially women, to let someone into their car who they don’t know, let alone travel in the car of a total stranger. They will need to find better authentication tools than email addresses and phone numbers, among other things.
There’s also the issue of insurance. If a passenger makes a claim in the event of an accident, the rise in premiums could make the service cost-prohibitive.
The big question is if Google and Waze can stealthily come up from behind UberX. At this point, that seems unlikely.
On the other hand, it could very well be that Google is developing an answer to UberX right under the nose of regulators. Google might leave Uber and Lyft fighting a battle for deregulation while it quietly develops a dynamic and evolving platform with a host of already-loyal users.