‘Waze changed everything,’ the taxi driver says. The Police have closed a road miles away but the driver already knows and is taking a different route. He knows because Waze told him, or rather the other drivers told him, though they had no rank to pull up at and no café where they could spread the news.
- Waze was established in 2006 as FreeMap Israel, and was rebranded three years later
- A Sat Nav app that you download on to your phone and put on your dashboard
- Free to use
- Crowdsources information from drivers
- Acquired by Google for around $1bn in 2013
- 115m monthly active users doing about 16bn miles a month
- 15% of users tell each other what’s happening on the road
- 50 million reports a month
- Business model – ads are put in the app at safe times e.g. you are driving along and a little ping will show you where a Shell or BP station is.
- Does not sell data
- Editors and ‘power users’ edit the maps as a hobby and have a desktop version of Waze
- Around one million users in London
- More than two million in the UK
Waze mixes crowd-sourced, anonymised real-time GPS data and machine learning to build maps and calculate traffic flows but it also allows users to report incidents and disruption.
In the case of its thousands upon thousands of ‘editors’ and 'power users', volunteers spend hours – sometimes up to five hours a day - updating the maps using local knowledge and even highway and transport authority data. There is a hierarchy of editors to ensure quality control of the data.
This reporting and editing function is one of the most important aspects of the Waze App and has seen it secure around 800 ‘city partners’ around the world.
Teaming up with TfL
In London, Waze has secured a free deal with Transport for London (TfL) that has seen it become a key element of the authority’s data gathering. In return for giving TfL its traffic data, Waze receives information on London road closures and delays.
Around half of Waze’s UK users are based in the capital. Waze UK country manager, Finlay Clark, says: ‘When we suggested this to TfL at first they felt no way is crowd sourced data going to be that accurate. Within a year and a half of working with us, crowdsourced data is now the number one source of data.
‘We report around 600 accidents a month. That is because it is easier to report on Waze than to pull over, phone 999 and then the issue ends up back at TfL.
'The guys at TfL have a 90 minute window to respond, resolve and recover things on the network and they say by getting Waze data in the control room they are getting things 10 to 15 minutes quicker than beforehand. Crowdsourced data is not only accurate it is quicker.’
Glynn Barton, TfL’s director of network management, tells Transport Network: ‘Our data sharing agreement with Waze gives us valuable extra information about what is happening on our roads and allows us to respond quickly and safely to incidents and disruption across the capital. We will continue to work with Waze so that we can both make the most of the data we are sharing and keep people moving on London’s busy road network.’
Highways England is also now in talks with Waze. Customer service manager Mel Clarke told us that ‘crowdsourced data gives you really valuable data on what is happening on the network more valuable than any device we currently have on the network’.
Smart working on trial
Mr Clark tells Transport Network: ‘The whole connected cities programme of us working with cities came from a meeting four or five years ago, where we met with the mayor of Rio, and we said we could be using this data to help operations, and that how it came out really organic. We are now seen as part of the infrastructure of the journey.’
The congestion and incident data might only be the tip of the iceberg. Waze is reported to be involved in a raft of interesting projects that move the App from saving time to saving lives.
It is in trials across Europe to support emergency services. When Waze users’ reports are fed back to emergency services they have been found to help the blue lights locate incidents quicker, while emergency services registering incidents on Waze have found it decreases the number of people phoning in to report an incident that is already known about.
During hurricanes in America, Waze editors have set up virtual emergency units, providing information in real-time to help people locate shelters and other forms of support. It is also involved with the Alan Turing Institute and the Greater London Authority in building a model for predicting air pollution.
Interestingly, one area Waze does not appear to be pushing into is public transport.
Transport Network asks Mr Clark about expansion plans in this area and his response is intriguingly non-committal: ‘We just do driving and things with transportation. At the moment we feel have so much to do with driving. Whoever is the company that controls all that multi-modal area will be one of the most valuable countries in the world in the future.’