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Carpool Apps Expand In Pacific Northwest

Google subsidiary Waze has launched a carpool app statewide in Washington.

Google subsidiary Waze is launching a carpool app statewide in Washington Tuesday. The company is the latest to see opportunity in the carpool organizing business in the Pacific Northwest.

Carpooling dates back to World War II, yet it still commands a small share of all vehicle trips. Waze CEO Noam Bardin said three overlapping trends could drive more people to carpool: mobile phones, our increasing comfort with the "sharing economy” and worsening traffic.

"It's extremely uncomfortable to schedule and unschedule and actually make a carpool work without a smartphone and GPS and all these things today that we take for granted,” Bardin said.

His company and its competitors allow you to join a carpool or recruit riders with a few swipes of an app. Others in the increasingly crowded field include specialty services of Uber and Lyft, plus Scoop, Zimride and Seattle-based Pogo which targets busy parents of kids.

The apps differ in how much control they give you over matches and whether the carpool driver does this as a job or just for gas money and access to the HOV lane.

Uber and Lyft have introduced a carpool option in the dense Seattle and Portland metro areas, but not in other smaller Northwest cities. Lyft’s is called Lyft Line and Uber offers UberPOOL.

“For those not familiar with POOL, it enables riders heading in the same direction to share a car and the cost of a rideshare trip through the Uber app,” Uber’s Pacific Northwest spokesman Nathan Hambley said. “One of our priorities as a company is to help get more people into fewer, more fuel-efficient vehicles.”

Bardin said as a rule of thumb, Waze Carpool charges riders about one quarter of what the same ride would cost using a standard ride-hailing service. Eventually, Waze stands to make money by taking a commission on ride transactions, but Bardin said his company would charge no fees during the launch phase in Washington state.

Drivers will be paid a "reimbursement" on a monthly basis and are not considered employees. The money is meant to cover gas and wear and tear, not as pay for work.

"This is not taxable income. This is just sharing the cost of owning the car," Bardin said. "It is designed specifically so that you cannot make this your job."

Waze started in Israel and its Carpool app previously debuted in California and Texas.

"When we looked at what would be the next state to go to, Washington has a few very important characteristics," Bardin said in an interview Monday. "One is you have got a very significant HOV or carpool lane infrastructure, meaning that getting another person in the car gives you a lot of value as you're commuting."

Bardin said Waze also has 350,000 active users of its traffic and navigation app in the Seattle metro area already, which provides a good base to introduce an additional service. He also cited government support for alternative transportation modes.

More about the ridesharing apps in the Pacific Northwest:

  • Pogo Rides: Carpool app founded in Seattle to arrange rides for children of busy parents. The app offers screened drivers for kids.
  • Scoop: This carpooling app launched in the Bay Area in 2015 and debuted in greater Seattle last year with some start-up funding from the Seattle city government and Amazon.
  • Lyft Line: An option in the Lyft ride-hailing app that lets users choose to share their ride with others going in the same general direction for a fare that could be as much as 60 percent less. If Lyft can't match you with other riders, you still get a discounted trip. In the Pacific Northwest, available only in the Seattle and Portland metro areas. 
  • UberPool: Similar to Lyft Line, Uber matches you with riders going the same way so you can share the cost. Selecting this option in the Uber app means your door-to-door trip probably will have additional pickups and drop-offs along the way and take a little longer. Available in the Pacific Northwest only in the Seattle and Portland metro areas.
  • Zimride: Provides a private rideshare and carpool matching service for companies and universities. Owned by Enterprise Rent A Car. The University of Washington and Washington State University partnered with Zimride.
  • Managed by the Washington State Department of Transportation to connect commuters to carpool and vanpool options in their area.
  • Drive Less Connect: Oregon's version of RideshareOnline offers a single gateway to match people going the same way with available public programs for their area.
  • Transit agencies sometimes provide vans for steady carpool groups. TripPool is King County Metro's rideshare program. In the Portland area, a different government agency also named Metro is in charge of ridesharing support
Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.