Your Private Driver: Hey Tom, Waze Sucks.

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One of the opportunities that driving around all day gives me is the chance to use navigation apps far more than the average person. Between Waze and Google Maps, these apps are collecting something like 300 miles every day from my driving exploits. So, I think I’m somewhat qualified to give the opinion that Waze sucks and no one should use it anymore. DTNS Founder Tom Merritt on the other hand is a proud Waze advocate however, and I tried once (and failed) to convince him once of the superiority of Google Maps. Yes, even in the Los Angeles area, which is Waze’s largest market by far (for good reason), the revered navigation app is simply not the best at what it does.

This time, I make my case again, along with some data and pretty pictures to assist me.

Proof that I use Waze a lot
The crown says I’m legit. The angry face says L.A. traffic is annoying.

It’s hard to argue against Google Maps being the superior app in general for navigation. Lane guidance, offline mode, and the ability to easily select multiple routes on the fly are all great features that are far more useful for keeping you from getting lost than Waze’s alerts about cars on the side of the road. Waze, however, was never designed to be a navigation app; it was designed to be a traffic-busting app. While Google Maps also has the ability to find the fastest route through rush-hour traffic, it’s a feature that seems to be all but forgotten in the presence of the mighty Waze.

For one thing, everyone in Los Angeles swears that Waze gets them through traffic faster. It could be from word of mouth, it could be from name recognition, or it could be that Waze actually always says it’ll get you there faster than the competition. Seriously, every time. Even when Google Maps and Waze have chosen identical routes to a destination, Waze says that it’s faster. How does that one work?

Waze screenshot of my drive homeGoogle Maps screenshot of my drive home

Above, you can see two screenshots showing my drive home from Santa Monica during the afternoon rush hour (yes, it’s that bad). What you may not have noticed is that both apps are giving me the exact same route. And yet, somehow Waze is claiming it’ll get me there nine minutes faster. I don’t really see how that’s possible; I’d have to go uncomfortably far over the speed limit to shave off a whole nine minutes from this trip, and speeding is nearly impossible in rush hour congestion anyway.

As it turns out, I’m not the only person who’s noticed this little discrepancy. Lynn Walford earlier this year took some data points comparing ETA times in Waze and Google Maps, and found that Google’s less appealing numbers were actually more accurate the vast majority of the time. CNBC did a similar unscientific test around the 4th-of-July weekend and came to a similar conclusion regarding ETAs (Apple Maps was also included in this comparison).

Another feature which in my mind elevates Google Maps’ status an actual traffic-busting option is the ability to select from multiple alternate routes on the fly. Waze only offers this option from a Routes screen that’s in a less-than-convenient location, though it will eventually recalculate its One True Path if you take a wrong turn. Google Maps on the other hand allows a driver to easily make decisions based on traffic conditions that haven’t been updated yet, or to avoid traffic jams created by Waze (seriously, that’s a thing in L.A.). Some examples below:

screenshot_20160920-073830 screenshot_20160913-091930screenshot_20160913-090004 screenshot_20160912-110052

In light of all this new evidence, you may be wondering why everyone isn’t hastily deleting Waze from their mobile devices this very moment. Well, Waze is a different kind of app, and it has its benefits. First of all its driving instructions are a lot easier to understand since the street names and and exits are all written by human editors, not automatically generated. Google Maps sometimes references freeways and exits by names that only exist on maps instead of actually on the road; I doubt many SoCal residents have any idea where Highway 19 is, for example.

Another one of Waze’s killer features is the ability to send your ETA. With one tap you can send it to any of your friends who also use Waze, but with a few more taps you can also send your ETA to anyone else using email, SMS, Facebook Messenger, Hangouts, iMessage, or just about any chat program in existence. The message even includes a link to a private webpage where you can view the sender’s drive in progress. This is an amazing feature for letting my wife know when I’ll be home for dinner, and was the primary reason I used Waze until very recently. Google Maps has been rumored to be adding this functionality into its app soon, but in the meantime I’ve resorted to using the third-party alternative SendETA. (Hey look, it’s a bonus Pick of the Day™!)

Thirdly, there’s a gamification aspect of Waze. There are points to earn, leaderboards to climb, and ranks and avatars to unlock if you report enough of those cars stopped on the shoulder or traffic jams. There’s even virtual candy to collect if you’re willing to take a certain route. It’s a way to make rush hour driving a little bit of fun for those willing to pay attention. Also, if you’re watching for road hazards you’re probably not doing something else dumb like texting… though I guess reporting that Highway Patrol vehicle on the shoulder could be equally distracting.

It may come down to personal preference at the end of the day regardless of how much information I present here. Waze is one of those apps that everyone knows about and almost everyone uses. It’s hard to dethrone that level of mindshare (right, Uber?), especially when you’re coming to the dance with a non-catchy name like Google Maps Navigation. I know I’m going to get at least one person daily bringing up Waze and insisting that it’s faster and that I should do what it says. I’ll drop some knowledge on them, but I’m only one man in a sea of ten million rush-hour commuters.

But you, dear reader, and you, dear founder, are now part of the enlightened ones. Use Waze if you’d like, but know that while it was the first name in anti-traffic navigation, it is no longer the last.

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber/Lyft driver working in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. If you have any questions you would like answered for this column, you can contact him at djsekani at gmail dot com, or on twitter and reddit at the username djsekani. Have a safe trip!