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Alphabet expands Waze’s carpool service — giving Uber a fiercer rival in its home state California

  • Waze Carpool will expand to all of California on Tuesday.
  • The service allows users to pick up extra passengers along a planned route.
  • It's one of many ways that Google-parent Alphabet is doubling down on transportation technology and competing with Uber.
Waze Phone Application for smart phone
Linda Davidson | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Waze's carpooling service will expand to all of California next week, the company announced Wednesday.

The expansion of Waze Carpool, which begins Tuesday, provides another option for California's tech-savvy commuters, and could ramp up competition for transportation technology start-ups like Uber and Lyft.

Waze's app allows commuters to input traffic hazards and slowdowns and see a crowd-sourced map of commuting delays. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, bought Israeli-developed Waze in 2013, integrating Google's extensive mapping and geolocation services into the app.

More recently, the traffic-tracking social app has been running pilots of a service that allows users to pick up passengers along a planned route in Israel and several California communities.

Alphabet is "very happy" with how the pilots went, said Josh Fried, head of Waze Carpool. He said the San Francisco pilot is growing every week, though he declined to share specific numbers, citing the competitive atmosphere.

Unlike ride-hailing services, Waze Carpool caps payments, and drivers are limited to two rides a day. That way, the company said, drivers will be reimbursed for the wear-and-tear on their car, but will not use the carpooling app as a full-time gig.

Drivers get a maximum rate of 54 cents per mile on Waze Carpool — the IRS limit that differentiates income and reimbursement for gas mileage and wear-and-tear — meaning drivers shouldn't have to declare the rides as a source of income on their taxes.

Still, for such a small payment, taking a detour to pick up a stranger may seem like an unlikely scenario. But Fried said Waze's community differentiates it from ride-hailing services that can provide higher payments and fast service.

Users can vet the drivers on social media, and even use Waze Carpool as a networking opportunity for those who live nearby, Fried said, not unlike the way Airbnb promises the opportunity not just for cheap accommodations, but to build a relationship with a local.

Through the pilot programs, Waze has learned how to optimize waiting times and driving times for both parties to make sure it's convenient, Fried said.

"Carpool for us is a really big bet," Fried said. "It embodies what we think makes the best of Waze: our innovative technology, our expertise in complex routing and our friendly community that's in it to help each other out. For years, folks on the Waze platform have helped each other out by contributing to data. Now they are able to really take a sizable step in reducing congestion by taking cars off the road."

It's yet another in a series of moves by Alphabet, which has invested in both Uber and Lyft, to build a burgeoning transportation empire. Fried even said that Waze benefits from "friends in the ride-hailing industry" that have gotten people comfortable with seeing cars pick them up on a screen.

Alphabet has also invested heavily in self-driving car technologies through its Waymo arm, which according to datahas a sizable lead over rivals like Uber and Tesla in that arena.

"Google has always been known for taking multiple bets in the same category — like messaging," Fried said. "The key is, we are all focused on our individual users and what they need. Google Maps does an amazing job at mapping the whole world. Waze is all about drivers — there are no sidewalks on our maps."