Given search giant Google's mapping expertise, perhaps the only thing surprising about its rumored carpooling business is that it didn't launch one sooner. According to multiple reports, Google's set to launch an app in Israel, RideWith, that lets drivers collect metered payment from passengers traveling in the same direction.
RideWith, which will rely on Tel Aviv-based company Waze's mapping and traffic data, is reportedly much less ambitious in scope than ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft. The Wall Street Journal reports that drivers will be limited to two rides a day and will only be able to pick up passengers "if they leave from their home neighborhood and drive to their workplaces" (or the other way around). Waze will automatically learn drivers' commutes and match them with prospective passengers, Reuters reports, and fares paid through the app will include any maintenance expenses incurred in transit. Google will take a 15 percent cut of all transactions.
By focusing on the commuting crowd, Google's attempting to avoid the sort of hullabaloo that's plagued crowdsourced transportation apps in other countries. Uber's unorthodox approach to chauffeuring -- drivers in many cases forgo the licenses and oversight required of traditional transportation companies -- has led to bans in a number of territories. France recently barred Uber from operating UberPOP, its ultra low-cost ridesharing tier, within the country's borders, and China came close to following suit this week. Elsewhere, Uber's offerings have been banned in Fukuoka, Japan; Telengu, India; and even Eugene, Oregon, and Las Vegas.
Google's RideWith launch comes at a time when interest in mapping is at an all-time high. Uber itself submitted a bid for Nokia's Here digital service for as much as $3 billion earlier this year, and more recently acquired mapping assets -- a data center, cameras, patents, and roughly 100 engineers -- from Microsoft. Separately, iPhone maker Apple has deployed a fleet of vehicles across 13 states in the U.S. to collect data to improve Apple Maps, including its directions and transit apps for iOS.
RideWith may ultimately be a stopgap -- both Google and Uber are working toward autonomous, robotic ride-hailing services -- but it's a calculated one. Google, which shelled out $1 billion for Waze in 2013, has already integrated the service's valuable data into Google Maps, and is turning to the crowdsourced transportation business (Uber pocketed an estimated $400 million last quarter) for more tangible returns. Already, the company has plans to expand RideWith from its initial testing grounds -- the Israeli cities of Tel Aviv, Ra'anana, and Herzilya -- if things go smoothly.