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The Waze navigation app is headed in a new, and different, direction.
Beyond telling us the best way to get around town, it now wants to be the place to arrange carpool rides. The Google-owned service, which Waze had been testing in Israel and California, is now available nationally, in all 50 United States, via the new Waze Carpool smartphone app.
The idea is to help get more cars off the road and make it worthwhile to drivers by making their commute to work faster, by sticking the driver and Wazer into the carpool lanes of big cities.
“Our mission has been all about finding a solution to traffic,” says Waze CEO Noam Bardin. “But traffic is getting worse and worse. There is no way out. There are just too many cars and not enough roads.”
Drivers charge passengers for the lift but can’t make a living from it – just enough to basically reimburse them for their gas, insurance and other costs – up to 54 cents a mile.
To use the service as a passenger, download the Waze Carpool app in the Apple and Google Play app stores, put in your commute time, home and work address, and see who’s available during that time. Names of other nearby Wazers will then show up. From a list supplied by Waze, you click it to request a ride and await a response.
From the main Waze app, you can register your interest to drive them instead. (Here’s where to find the app in the Apple and Google Play stores, if you don’t already have it on your device.)
This isn’t to be confused with carpooling efforts from ride-hailing companies Lyft and Uber. With them, the lowest-priced fare is a shared ride, and the savings are usually pretty substantial.
Bardin says Waze drivers are limited to two rides a day. “If you want to make money as a driver, go to Lyft or Uber.” The idea is to make the carpool rides a cheap alternative to taking a municipal bus or subway.
But the app is basically asking people to trust a complete stranger to ride with them in their car, basically a digital hitchhiker.
Bardin says similar things were said about Airbnb when it started. “Who wanted to sleep in some strangers home?” But people got comfortable with it, and he adds that Waze has filters. For instance, women can request to only ride with their gender, or office workers can request only people in their building.
To kick off the service, all new riders get to pay $2 for their initial rides, between now and the end of October.
Bardin says the Carpool service signals a different direction for Waze, which cites over 100 million daily active users worldwide.
Today, it’s a service for finding navigation and short-cuts, but in a few years, Waze will be thought of as the vehicle for getting to work and around town, Bardin says.
“Think of Waze like this: I tell it I want to go to work, and it makes sure I get picked up.”
Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.