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Waze Explores Carpooling as a Way to Beat Traffic

The Alphabet-owned company is piloting a carpool-enabling app for Silicon Valley commuters.

One of the biggest names in technology has begun exploring the idea of enabling carpooling as a means of beating traffic.

The Alphabet-owned company Waze, which gathers traffic information and feeds it into a map in an effort to take drivers on the least-clogged route to their destination, is piloting an app that brings together drivers with riders whose origins and destinations are close to each other. Confined to the employees of participating Silicon Valley companies, the pilot test compensates drivers for fuel and that’s it.

So it’s not about making money, like Uber or Lyft. Instead, Waze’s video announcement for the launch takes a different tone — it’s about beating traffic jams.

The theory goes that most people commuting to work every day have at least one seat open, and if they just brought other commuters along with them, then the number of cars on the road might fall low enough that traffic could flow more smoothly.

Of course, it might not be that simple from a traffic engineering standpoint — cities have long turned to transit expansions and lane additions as a means of battling traffic jams, only for researchers to point out that a latent demand for road space is often going to result in no net improvement in vehicle speed.

But Waze is not the only company looking at carpooling as a possible option to help out with the daily commute. Lyft is piloting a carpooling program in the Bay Area as well, and the app Carma is pairing riders with drivers daily.

Aside from the traffic benefits, Waze’s website lists other big-picture benefits it hopes its participants will see. Theoretically, every trip a commuter takes in another person’s car is one less trip using another carbon-emitting mode of transportation, so more commuting should mean fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Having a passenger in the car will allow drivers to use the car pool lane.

And if nothing else, the company points out, having a passenger in the car is more “social” than driving alone.

Alphabet has been branching out into the transportation field quite a bit recently, Waze aside. Since February, various branches of the tech giant have announced programs aimed at improving route optimization programs, offering a transportation analytics platform to cities and possibly even setting up a test "city" for futuristic projects — all this on top of Google's high-profile self-driving car program.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.

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