Google-owned navigation service Waze is shutting down its six-year-old carpooling service, citing shifting commuting patterns as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Starting in September, the company will begin the process of winding down its carpooling service, which had been available in the US, Brazil, and Israel. Waze said it will explore other ways it can help serve the 150 million customers worldwide that use its navigation app.
“While Waze was predominantly a commuting app pre-COVID, today the proportion of errands and travel drives have surpassed commutes,” the company said in a statement provided to The Verge. “This means we have an opportunity to find even more impactful ways to bring together a global community to share real-time insights and help each other outsmart traffic — this is what has always made Waze truly special.”
First launched in the Bay Area in 2016, Waze Carpool eventually expanded to all 50 states in the US as well as Brazil and Waze’s country of origin, Israel. The service was different from carpooling services offered by Uber and Lyft insofar as it let nonprofessional drivers offer rides to people traveling on a similar route for a nominal fee. In 2018, the company launched its own standalone carpool app.
The impetus, at least originally, was to get more people sharing rides in the interest of reducing the number of single-occupancy vehicles on the road. Waze said it would use its “superior routing technology” to help commuters fill empty seats in their cars and, in the process, hopefully reduce the number of cars on the road.
Waze insisted it wasn’t in the business to make money. Even so, the company relied on partnerships with big employers who could then encourage workers to use the service. At one point, Waze sent teams of employees to WeWork locations bearing tacos and other free goodies to persuade young professionals to download the app.
Carpooling has been on the decline over the last several decades. In the 1970s, in the midst of a gas crisis, around 20 percent of Americans shared rides on the way to work; now, that number is around 9 percent. Both Uber and Lyft have tried to get their respective customers to share rides with varying degrees of success.
But if carpooling was starting to regain some modest momentum, COVID basically stopped it in its tracks. Uber and Lyft both shuttered their carpooling services in the early months of the pandemic. Now, with case numbers down and vaccines widely available, carpooling is coming back — mostly as a response to increasing fare prices.
Waze’s service relied on a steady stream of people going to the office every day, and that has fundamentally changed as a result of the pandemic. According to a recent survey, 35 percent said they can work from home full time. Another 23 percent can work from home between one and four days a week.
Waze said it will continue to work with cities on their mobility challenges. “We are proud of what we accomplished through Waze Carpool, and are grateful to the Carpool community for sharing drives and working together to take cars off the road,” the company added.