Waze May Not Be So Evil After All

Waze May Not Be So Evil After All
by Tom Simon on 03-21-2016 at 7:00 am

In contrast to the opinions in a recent article here, I think Waze is extremely beneficial to the individuals who use it, other drivers – by virtue of more efficient road usage, and the various jurisdictions that oversee roads and highways. For those not familiar with Waze, it is a smartphone app that provides navigation and route planning using real time traffic information. The major premise is that by using GPS information and user reports, Waze can assemble a more accurate picture of road conditions and hazards. By combining crowd sourced traffic and hazard information with route planning, Waze is effective at shortening commute travel time and improving safety.

Waze is really good at route planning. When it sees congestion it will direct users to other roads that can be quicker. Instead of leading to more congestion on side roads as has been suggested, my experience is that it has a bias towards highways – they are usually faster after all. Plus, if one of the alternate routes becomes overloaded, Waze will plan routes that avoid that congestion too. Waze serves as a load leveling system for roads that increases overall utilization and efficiency.

More than once, when I have encountered traffic and flagged it, immediately Waze will update the map to make the route yellow or red. Waze ranks user reports based on how long the user has been using Waze, and probably on the accuracy of their previous reports. It is not unlike a consumer credit scoring system for Waze traffic reporters. One complaint about crowd sourced traffic is that individuals might try to rig the system by falsely reporting traffic on their favorite route home. This is prevented by checking to see if their vehicle is actually moving – as opposed to parked – and by comparing that one user’s report to other vehicles in the same area.

Because Waze uses real time information, its maps and traffic info are up-to-the-minute, avoiding a major problem that traditional GPS navigation systems encounter. Waze will even provide ETA updates or route changes based on changing traffic conditions during a drive. Having Waze run on a smartphone is also good because phones are more easily updated than built-in navigation systems found in most cars. My 2005 SUV has an obsolete boat-anchor GPS system that has become unusable due to its ancient user interface, limited capability, and inability to read its outdated road data DVD. Updating it with a newer system is simply not an option. During the life of a car, its owner(s) will likely go through several generations of smart phones and app updates.

The Waze user interface is very easy to use and is not distracting. I’d probably have a harder time using a frozen in time built in navigation system. Furthermore, Waze can fine tune their app to continuously improve the ease of use and minimize driver distraction. Yes, it does display ads, but only when you are stopped.

Next comes the topic of how municipal traffic information should be shared. Contrary to the assertion that Waze is stealing the keys to the city, Waze is sharing information exactly as it should be. Cities have closure and road condition information that needs to be distributed – in any and every way that is feasible. Choosing to share this information with Waze in no way limits their ability to share it with others.

Waze too has useful information sourced from its users. Sharing this with municipalities makes sense, especially in emergencies and during unpredictable events. There does not seem to be a down side to the exchange of information when both parties, and the public stand to benefit.

Perhaps, as some argue, Waze is undermining 511 initiatives. However, 511.org openly makes their database available to app developers and even features Waze and other navigation and traffic apps on their site. The type of information that 511 systems can provide is best delivered in a frictionless manner during navigation system route planning and visually in real time on the road. Far from being a threat to 511 Waze seems to be complimentary.

Along with pot holes, objects in the road and stalled vehicles, users can report police car locations. People usually don’t bother reporting police cars that are in motion. Only the ones parked by the road are reported, so Waze is not a useful way to locate police if you are contemplating a crime. And, anyways, for that there are police radio scanners. However, for the same reason police cars are marked to begin with, these reports can help encourage drivers to slow down and drive more cautiously near a police car location. Isn’t that to goal of traffic enforcement anyway, not simply to issue tickets?

We have all seen empty highway patrol vehicles when they park near road construction projects – same idea. In fact, the Highway Patrol probably wants Waze users to report them. What’s more, the absence of a reported police car on Waze offers no assurance that you are in a free for all speeding zone.

Another previously stated comment related to the federal railway administration’s efforts to ensure that Google maps has accurate information for railway crossings on roads. I’m certain that this information is not being made exclusively available to Google. But regardless, the good news is that Waze shares Google Map information – so train crossing information will be incorporated into the Waze App. By the way, Google acquired Waze some time ago, so Waze already benefits from Google traffic info and other map features. And, as was incorrectly asserted, Google Maps is not just a smartphone app, but an extensive database used through the web and programs like Google Earth.

Waze is not some evil plot to sequester road and traffic information. Rather it is a brilliant and in many ways obviously useful service that helps optimize traffic levels. More than once it has saved me from wasting time in traffic by finding an alternative route that simply avoided congestion.


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