Your Private Driver: The Waze Effect

This is a weekly column that offers news, insights, analysis, and user tips for rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft. Look for it every Tuesday after the live show, right here on

I’ve always maintained that Google Maps was the superior choice for turn-by-turn navigation over the more popular Waze, and I thought I made a pretty compelling case for why. Still, thanks mostly in part to my lack of a proper Silicon-Valley marketing budget, convincing others of this has been something of a challenge.

During my Uber runs, riders sometimes ask whether or not I’m using Waze. I tell them no, and tell them why. Most are satisfied with the explanation, but others don’t care and insist that I use Waze anyway. They do this by opening up the Waze app on their own phones and blaring the turn-by-turn directions loud enough for me to hear and follow. It takes back-seat driving to a new level of annoyance.

Relevant to this, a random technological glitch gave me an interesting opportunity last week. That glitch was that my Galaxy S7 phone decided to just not work anymore (no, it wasn’t the battery…or the washing machine). Until I could get a replacement shipped out, I had to use my wife’s iPhone 6S to run the Uber app. For some reason, the Uber Driver app doesn’t work well with Google Maps on iOS; the Maps app would refuse to load directions for several minutes, in a couple of cases the trip was over before Maps was working properly. I decided to use Waze instead, since it performed much more reliably on the iPhone.

The really interesting thing was that now that I was actually using Waze, all complaints, objections, and second-guesses about the routes I took vanished. Even when the directions were pretty obviously obtuse, everyone just assumed that Waze knew what it was doing and that it must be smarter. In one case I’m pretty sure I could have picked a faster way to the airport in my sleep, but the passengers were perfectly satisfied taking the suggested route as long as Waze said that it was the best.

As for the routes themselves, while Google Maps prefers to stay on main roads as long as they’re not super-congested, Waze almost pointlessly meanders through slower side roads in what looks like an attempt to avoid traffic. It’s an interesting sort of game that can make a driver think they’re taking a lucrative shortcut and getting one over on the rest of those peons stuck in traffic, but in reality the time saved is often negligible at best, even with all the extra navigation work.

Still, there’s no arguing that the majority perception, at least in Los Angeles, is that Waze is the only way to deal with traffic. I find it amazing how the app has not only earned its reputation through word of mouth, but kept it despite all of its shortcomings. Sometimes you don’t really have to be the best, you just have to convince everyone else that you are.

Hey, it worked for Apple.

Sekani Wright is an experienced Uber 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!